Hemp and marijuana are different; WV farms are stigmatized

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Few plants are as steeped in controversy as this nine-leaf crop and few have as many uses. Cannabis-sativathe scientific name of the plant, is commonly known to produce THC, which is responsible for the “high” feeling some people experience when ingesting or smoking its leaves and flowers. This chemical is one more than a hundred and was the target of Controlled Substances Act in 1937 which declared the plant an illegal drug. But a hemp plant is now legally differentiated from drugs because it must have an incredibly low THC content.

“I once joked that if you smoked the whole acre of [hemp]you would have emphysema, not elevated,” said Dr. Louis McDonald, professor of environmental soil chemistry and soil fertility at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Designwho researches hemp plants at the university, “But the stigma is there. There’s no doubt about it.”

Hemp was legalized in 2014, when a Farm Bill called the Farm Bill of 2014 was signed and allowed people to grow industrial hemp with a market research license, as long as the plant does not exceed 0.3% THC. But it wasn’t as simple as Congress passing a bill for the hemp industry to grow.

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture began accepting applications and licensing farmers and researchers in 2016. Even then, it took a few years for farmers to get interested in hemp. John Moredock, hemp program coordinator at West Virginia Department of Agriculturesaid that at first they really only had WVU researchers and a handful of farmers who wanted to take on the challenge of entering a new market.

Stigma and misconceptions

While hemp farmers face many problems, misconceptions about hemp remain an obstacle for them. Hemp is incapable of making someone addicted, but negative perceptions about marijuana are affecting public opinion of hemp.

“I think it’s probably going to be around forever, but my experience is that a lot of the general public still don’t quite understand the difference or that there’s even a difference between hemp and medical cannabis because it’s the same plant,” Moredock said, “If you go out in the field and look at these plants, there’s no way of knowing if they’re going to succeed or fail. [the THC test]. They look exactly like medical cannabis grown in California.

This led to reports of people stealing crops, which is part of why WVU started growing hemp in a locked greenhouse. However, Tiffany Fess, Hemp Farmer and WVU Graduate Student, believes that over the past five years people have become much more educated and open-minded about hemp in general.

“I think for the most part it’s been kind of moved out of that stigmatized area, and now that we have medical marijuana as well, I think that helps,” Fess said, “You know, there’s dispensaries popping up everywhere. It’s not such a shocking thing. A field of cannabis plants will always shock the normal individual, but I think it’s really great. It’s a very good harvest.

Dr. Michael Gutensohn, associate professor of horticulture at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Designwho also researches hemp plants, shared the same sentiment that the stigma is starting to fade as people are exposed to more products made from hemp crops.

“For example, personally I had a jacket that was made of hemp fibers, and I really liked it because it’s quite cool and pleasant to wear, and you can’t see from the outside that it’s made of fibers of hemp. It just seems normal,” Dr. Gutensohn said. He also gave the example of printing paper – if someone is using paper made from hemp fiber they might not even notice it is hemp unless examine the packaging.

“So I think that’s what we’re going to see more of – just normal products. We perceive them as normal products and you probably don’t even know there’s hemp in there,” Dr. Gutensohn explained.

Joy and Hemp

Joy and Hemp, a CBD business in Morgantown, is located at the intersection of Greenbag Road and Kingwood Pike. It is run by a group of siblings, Ted, Jennifer and Mary Hastings plus Patrick Kyle who inherited the land and came up with the idea to plant hemp as they had good farmland on a busy road .

“We thought it was going to be a shocker – you know, there’s cannabis on the side of the road here,” Kyle said, “But then it was like, oh, this actually helps people and it pays off, so we kept doing it.

They said the business started off pretty well with the help of local farmer Mike Manypenny, and since then the family has continued the tradition of helping other locals who want to grow hemp.

“I definitely couldn’t have done it without him as far as the market goes. It’s a bit like the Wild West. It’s a new market; it’s very volatile,” Kyle explained.

Other factors that led to their success, they say, are access to good soil and Kyle’s knowledge of hemp plants that he acquired while working on hemp farms in California.

“All the ground descends from the hill and fills the valley. Over many, many years the soil erodes and fills in the flat areas, so the soil is very good,” said Ted Hastings.

Joy and Hemp makes a variety of products, including CBD body butter, lipstick, tincture, smoking flowers, and white chocolates. They can be found at Tobacco and Vape stores in Morgantown or ordered through their website.

But the farm is set to be turned into concrete as the DOH plans to turn the land into a roundabout. Ted said he thought the farm was being discriminated against because of its size and the fact that it grew hemp. Hemp is not a plant that farmers typically grow on acres and acres of land because it requires more attention and is more difficult to harvest.

“We are not considered a legitimate farm by the [Monongalia] Departmental commission. I heard them say that we are not legit. It’s really sad because we have a community garden. We have our own state-registered CBD business. We have multiple farmers participating in the cultivation on the land, and there’s just no recognition,” Ted said.

“Here in Mon County, it’s very business-related, and business and agriculture don’t seem to mix well. We’re in an urban development area, so the fact that we’re in an urban development area says basically we’re not a gas station,” Ted continued, “if there was a gas station there there wouldn’t be a roundabout coming in, but a CBD farm that wants to produce something for a possible alternative to opiates or something…”

WBOY contacted the Department of Highways, which is responsible for the roundabout project. They released the following statement: “The environmental process has been thoroughly vetted, analyzed, researched and approved to ensure that all parties involved are treated fairly.”

The DOH also said construction will begin once the design is complete and the right-of-way is acquired. “The development of roundabouts and intersections has been studied, analyzed and evaluated. The roundabout was the alternative with less impact on the area, which met the objective of improving traffic flow and reducing delays better than an alternative to signalized intersections,” they write.

Plant with a thousand uses

Hemp can be used for more than CBD oil. The plant is also famous for its strong fibers, which can be used to make clothing, paper, and even building materials like concrete and car parts. The seeds are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be used to make cereals, cooking oil and body lotions. Seed oils are also a good additive to fuel to keep it from freezing at low temperatures.

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