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The Federal Definition of Hemp

By March 9, 2020 No Comments

Do you agree with the federal definition of hemp? How long has this definition been in place? These questions will be answered in this guide. One interesting tidbit of information is that there really isn’t any specific data or science that backs the definition of hemp. We’ll also get into why some hemp crops are testing above 0.3% THC.

Federal Definition of Hemp

The federal definition of hemp reads, in part, “the plant Cannabis Sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [delta-9 THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” This can be found in Section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (AMA).

So, the federal government defined hemp in 1946? That’s correct. This standardization has remained in place since. It’s true that hemp contains less THC than cannabis, but not all hemp strains produce 0.3% or less THC. There are multiple factors that need to be considered when it comes to THC concentration and hemp – we’ll get into that a little later.

A hot topic of discussion in recent months has been the federal definition of hemp. Does it really make sense? Why aren’t any exceptions, clauses or amendments to this definition being made? In Oregon, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission recently increased the threshold of THC in some types of CBD products like tinctures and other products made using concentrate/extract. Their new rule now allows up to 50 mg of THC per container instead of 10 mg per container.

The Dry Weight Basis

The dry weight basis factor is where some questions can be asked. Hemp farmers must have their plants tested roughly 2 weeks prior to harvest. Prior to harvest a plant is not “dry”. It’s still living. Once a hemp plant is harvested, the THC begins its conversion to CBN (cannabinol). Cannabinol is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. If you are a cannabis user and your flower sits around a month or more – if you notice that it’s not as potent but makes you sleepier after using it, this is why. Much of the THC has likely converted to CBN.

Why isn’t a pre-harvested sample “dry weight”? Because it has not been dried or cured yet. It still contains all of its moisture.

It may be premature to be testing hemp crops prior to harvest – speaking on technical and literal terms – pre-harvest isn’t “dry”.

Other states can take Oregon’s example and increase the threshold for hemp that does exceed the federal definition of hemp. The state fixed this issue because some hemp crops were testing above the threshold of 0.3% THC. Since those crops aren’t compliant federally, they can still be overseen in-state and sold only in Oregon.

hemp seeds dried on stalk

Farmers Required to Destroy Crops

What happens when a hemp farmer’s crop tests too high in THC? They’re required to destroy it – all of it. The financial loss for some farmers can be substantial. There is the cost of the seeds, cost of water, general maintenance, harvesting, processing and, of course, the cost of any natural nutrients or means of keeping pests away too. It all adds up.

There are a few things that farmers can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to their crop. We’ll discuss this later too.

Can Hemp have More than 0.3% THC?

The simple answer is yes. Hemp can have more than 0.3% THC. Multiple factors play a role in how a plant grows. The climate and geographical makeup of the environment are the main component. In hotter climates, hemp plants can produce more THC than federally allowed. This then classifies those plants as cannabis (marijuana).

The soil type, as well as other environmental factors, also play a role. The genetics of the hemp strain are also a factor. It’s reasonable to say that some strains of hemp should only be grown in certain climates to maintain compliance with the federal definition of hemp. Genetics play the most significant role.

It’s important for hemp growers and seed suppliers to expose various strains of hemp to different climates and growing conditions. This will help them to see how a particular strain of a particular genetic makeup can produce more THC than what is allowed.

Growers and strain developers do their best to create strains of hemp that will maintain a consistent genetic profile. Even in plants, genetics can get crossed and things can go awry.

hemp plants

What can Farmers do to Prevent Hemp Crop Loss?

When it comes to hemp farming, it’s more difficult than some might think. For farmers, it can be a big financial risk. There are a few things that hemp farmers can to do make sure that their crops fall within the federal definition of hemp. First and foremost is research, research and more research.

Hemp farmers should take a little bit of extra time to see what strains of hemp have grown best in their specific climate. Once that list is compiled, it’s ideal to review strain genetics. A reputable hemp seed provider will have a genetics history available for the strains they carry. If a genetics history is not available, hemp farmers can take the gamble if they wish, but this doesn’t guarantee that their crop will be compliant.

Hemp farmers should be part of local hemp farming groups. This will help them to see what strains are working well for other farmers and which may not be the best to consider. There are more strains of hemp available now than there were a few years ago. While the goal of breeders is to produce hemp strains with strong genetics that will be consistent, as with human genetics – changes can occur from generation to generation. The same can happen with plants.

What we may see in the future is hemp strains being created for specific regions or even individual states. Arizona’s hemp farmers lost about 41% of their crops in 2019 because they tested too high. This can be partially due to the hot climate and climate of the southwest.

Canna Trading Co. selects our hemp CBD extract from American farmers with organic cultivation practices. All of our raw oil is tested prior to making it to our facility. We ensure that every batch is federally compliant prior to its arrival in our facility.

Closing Thoughts

We hope that this guide helps you better understand how hemp is defined and why it’s defined this way. We also hope that the information regarding how hemp crops “test hot” is helpful. It’s hard for consumers to understand why a hemp crop might test higher than 0.3% THC and that hemp can produce more than 0.3% THC.

Are you a hemp farmer that’s had to destroy a crop for “testing hot”? We’d love to hear your story!

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