Marijuana, Hemp, and The Cross-Pollination Dilemma
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
At the end of 2018 President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which rescheduled hemp and legalized it at the federal level. We wrote an article on the act back in December called the 2018 Farm Bill, which provides a more thorough breakdown of the legislation. Cannabis advocates have expressed that the passing of this act was a win for the cannabis industry, or at least a positive move forward, but it may have some unwanted consequences if not properly regulated.
Marijuana and Hemp belong to the same family, Cannabis sativa L., but there are some notable differences between the two plants. Over the years marijuana has been selected and bred for its high levels of THC and associated psychoactive effect. Hemp on the other hand, is cultivated for an alternative cannabinoid, Cannabidiol or CBD, as well as for its high fiber content and nutritional seeds. Legally in the United States, Hemp is not allowed to contain over 0.3% THC, whereas marijuana can contain upwards of 30% THC content.
There are also differences in the way each type of cannabis is cultivated. Hemp is typically grown on large parcels outdoors in close proximity to each other. The plants tend to be tall, skinny and exhibit less foliage near the base of the plant. Conversely, marijuana plants are planted further from each other and they are noticeably shorter with more foliage from the base to the tops of the plants. Indoor cultivation methods are generally favored with respect to marijuana. However, outdoor marijuana grows continue to be employed in areas with ideal growing climates such as California’s notorious Emerald Triangle, which encompasses Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties.
Despite their differences, Hemp and Marijuana have the potential for cross-pollination, especially when grown outdoors in proximity of one another. When a hemp plant cross pollinates a marijuana plant it can lead to a number of problems for the marijuana cultivator. Once cross pollinated, Marijuana loses a significant amount of THC potency, which is the primary reason it is grown and greatly effects the plant’s market value. On the other hand, Hemp that is pollinated with marijuana may gain THC potency, thereby putting the farmer at risk of producing more THC than allowed under federal regulations. While the marijuana farmer will lose a significant amount of money, hemp farmers have to face the possibility of complete crop loss as well as an increased risk of prosecution if their crop is found to have higher levels of THC than allowed (0.3%).
With the recent passing of the Agricultural Improvement Act, there will need to be a system put in place under which marijuana and hemp are not allowed to be grown in proximity to each other. Even when marijuana is grown indoors there is a slight possibility of cross pollination from hemp pollen, as the pollen is extremely small and may make its way in through intake/exhaust or openings in the facility. Jurisdictions throughout California, and other states, where marijuana has been approved for outdoor cultivation are now tasked with developing regulations that protect the interests of hemp and marijuana farmers.
The Farm Bill offers some consolation for Hemp Farmers who will likely be able to qualify for crop insurance once the Bill’s regulations have been developed, but Marijuana Cultivators have little recourse to such protections and instead must rely on state regulatory agencies to promulgate rules and regulations that mitigate the potential for cross-pollination. Early committee findings have resulted in various suggested minimum distance requirements between Hemp and Marijuana grows with some recommending that at least a thirty-mile buffer be imposed between the two different types of outdoor grows. Moving forward it is likely that a number of jurisdictions adopt an out-right ban or heavily regulate the locations where hemp may be cultivated in order to avoid any future cross-pollinations of these two crops.
While the 2018 Farm Bill gets worked out at both a federal and state level it will be important to see how states that have approved existing outdoor cannabis grows decide to move forward with their Hemp programs. As the CBD craze continues to gain ground, more and more Hemp farms are bound to be established throughout the Country. Interestingly, states will not only have to deal with their own regulations, but they will also need to work with neighboring states to ensure that minimum distance requirements can be coordinated across state boundaries with respect to approved outdoor Hemp and Marijuana grows.
Hemp and Marijuana Cultivators are encouraged to follow developments surrounding cross-pollination issues and interested parties should make their concerns known to regulators at both the state and local level. Green Consulting Partners will continue to provide updates surrounding cross-pollination and all other matters affecting the legal Marijuana and Hemp industries.