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Seed Certification, Global Research Lab Set Out to Standardize US Hemp

June 14, 2019
hemp seed certification header
In this April 19, 2018, file photo, Seth Crawford, co-owner of Oregon CBD, displays hemp seeds being prepared for sale to industrial hemp farmers at his facility in Monmouth, Ore. A global hemp research lab announced Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Oregon, is part of a larger movement to bring the standardization to hemp that traditional crops like corn and cotton enjoy. (Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo)
AURORA, Ore. (AP) — A unit of wheat is a called a bushel, and a standard weight of potatoes is called a century. But hemp as a fully legal U.S. agricultural commodity is so new that a unit of hemp seed doesn’t yet have a universal name or an agreed-upon quantity.

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That’s one example of the startling lack of uniformity — and accountability — in an industry that’s sprung up almost overnight since the U.S. late last year removed hemp from the controlled substances list.

“We have hemp fiber. What is it? What's the standard length?”

A global hemp research lab announced Thursday in Oregon, coupled with a nascent national review board for hemp varieties and a handful of seed certification programs nationwide, are the first stabs at addressing those concerns — and at creating accountability by standardizing U.S. hemp for a global market.

“If you look at a lot of financial markets, they’re all saying, ‘People are investing in this, and we have no idea what to divide it by,” said Jay Noller, head of Oregon State University’s new Global Hemp Innovation Center. “We have hemp fiber. What is it? What’s the standard length?”

Hemp Seed Certification

Oregon State’s research hub will be the United States’ largest and will offer a certification for hemp seed that guarantees farmers the seed they’re buying is legitimate and legal. That’s a critical need when individual hemp seeds are currently selling for between $1.20 and $1.40 per seed — and an acre of crop takes up to 2,000 seeds, Noller said.

farmer planting a cannabis seedling at Oregon State University research station

Jennifer Lane, a student intern at the Oregon State University Extension Center, plants a hemp seedling in a field at one of the research stations for Oregon State’s newly announced Global Hemp Innovation Center in Aurora, Ore., in this June 13, 2019 photo. The center will be the largest such research hub in the U.S. (Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo)

Licensed hemp acreage in Oregon, which has an ideal climate for growing the crop, has increased six-fold since last year, earning Oregon the No. 3 spot for hemp cultivation after Montana and Colorado, according to Vote Hemp, which advocates for and tracks the industry in the U.S.

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Four other states — North Dakota, Colorado, Tennessee and North Carolina — also have hemp seed certification programs. Other U.S. universities, such as Cornell in Ithaca, New York, have hemp research programs, but Oregon State’s will be the largest, built on years of hemp research done in test fields in China, Bosnia and Serbia and now at 10 research stations sprinkled across the state. On Thursday, Oregon State researchers began to sow their third crop in a field in Aurora.

The new center dovetails with a greater movement to create a national infrastructure around hemp as the market explodes. Globally, the supply of hemp is less than 10% of the demand, and that’s driving states like Oregon to rush to stake a claim in the international marketplace, Noller said.

Across the U.S., the number of licensed acres of hemp jumped 204% from 2017 to 2018, according to Vote Hemp. And the market for a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, is expected to grow from $618 million in 2018 to $22 billion in 2022 as its popularity as a health aide skyrockets.

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The U.S. National Review Board for Hemp Varieties will start taking applications in the fall from growers who want to claim credit for specific genetic varieties of hemp. Once growers have secured a unique designation from the board, they can apply for a plant patent with the U.S. government so no other grower can produce that type of hemp.

“This is the first time in U.S. history where we have a new crop that's suddenly gone from prohibited to no longer prohibited.”

A meeting in Harbin, China, in early July will bring members of the global hemp industry together to start to hash out critical details such as what to call a unit of hemp seed or the standard length of hemp fiber, Noller said. Other countries, such as China, have been growing hemp for years, but the industry lacks a universal standard countries can apply to trade, he said.

“This is the first time in U.S. history where we have a new crop that’s suddenly gone from prohibited to no longer prohibited,” Noller said. “We have never had something like this.”

Hemp Seeds Testing ‘Hot’ for THC

Hemp growers like Trey Willison applauded the move toward greater transparency in a booming market.

Some novice farmers are falling prey to seed sellers who are secretly, or even unwittingly, marketing seed that will grow into “hot” cannabis plants, with THC levels too high to market legally as hemp, he said.

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Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants but have different THC levels. Marijuana, illegal under federal law, refers to plants with more than a trace of THC. Hemp has almost no THC — 0.3% or less under U.S. government standards.

States with hemp programs test for THC in the crops, but do so after the plants are grown and close to harvest. Crops that test over the THC limit for hemp must be destroyed — and farmers with bad seed might not know until it’s too late, Willison said.

“A lot of people say, ‘Is your seed certified?’ and there's no such thing as certified seed right now.”

In one case last year, an Oregon seed seller marketed seeds on Craigslist as having a 3-to-1 CBD to THC ratio — but unbeknownst to farmers, the THC levels were still too high to be legal, he said. Several farms in Wisconsin, where agricultural hemp was just getting underway, bought the seeds and then went under when the resulting plants tested “hot,” Willison said.

The seeds “look identical, and you can’t tell them apart until four months into the year, when you know something’s wrong,” he said. “A bunch of farms failed, and it originated in Oregon.”

Other sellers are marking up the cost of what he called “garbage seed” as much as 1,000 times, said Willison, who started Unique Botanicals in Springfield, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Portland, after leaving his marijuana-growing business due to a glut of weed in the Oregon market.

“A lot of people say, ‘Is your seed certified?’ and there’s no such thing as certified seed right now. There’s no test, there’s no oversight. … There’s no proof of where the seed is coming from right now,” he said.

“They’re trying. It’s at the very beginning, for sure, but they are trying to do something about this mess.”

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  • YearofAction

    Each of the federal definitions of marijuana have never mentioned THC, but in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act marijuana became “characterized” as a drug. The 2018 Farm Bill definition of hemp does mention THC, but curiously, hemp is NOT characterized as a drug. THC is clearly a drug, and so are the other cannabinoids in cannabis, just as they were when the Constitution was ratified in 1787.

    In 1791, the 9th and 10th Amendments established the right of PEOPLE to continue to grow the versatile and valuable renewable natural resource that is cannabis. In 1868, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment established privileges and immunities for CITIZENS to continue to grow cannabis. In the context of these Amendments, nothing was established for corporations to grow cannabis, regardless of whether it is misnamed “marihuana” or “hemp”.

    Marijuana prohibition was first established by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Its malformed definition of marijuana was literally misconstrued to prohibit cannabis, which unfairly denied citizens rights, privileges and immunities to grow cannabis, without any mention of THC. The current exemption for hemp proves that marijuana prohibition does not require cannabis prohibition.

    It is a clear violation of the original intent of the 10th Amendment, an unnecessary restriction of the rights of States, and an improper denial of the civil rights of citizens, for the federal government to interfere by segmenting the cannabis plants into prohibited-by-misconstruction “marihuana” plants and legal-by-exemption “hemp” plants, when in both cases the plant is identified as Cannabis sativa L.

    At this point, marijuana and THC are both listed in Schedule 1, other drugs containing THC are in Schedule 3, but hemp and its THC are each descheduled. This is untenable because each of these forms of THC actually have the same chemical structure.

    The blanket prohibitions of “marihuana” and THC, followed by the specific exemptions of “hemp” and its THC, mimics how tax law is implemented (e.g. property taxes are paid by everyone, but some corporations get exempted from paying property taxes). It is not fair, and it is not how our constitutional rights regarding cannabis should be treated.

    It is also unfair to threaten farmers to determine the THC levels across the acreage of their crop. THC levels should be determined by the middleman, and the labeling of THC levels should be required at the point-of-sale.

    THC is THC, and cannabis is cannabis. The source of the problems is the government’s attempts to subdivide THC and cannabis. The techniques used to deschedule hemp and its THC, point out how to restore cannabis to the people. If hemp can be descheduled, then cannabis can be descheduled, as well as the THC in cannabis.

    The violations of the Amendments can be stopped by first simply reconstructing the definition of marijuana. The definition can be reconstructed to carefully deschedule cannabis, by revealing the adumbrated meaning of marijuana and explicitly stating the legitimate federal prohibitions that control the undesired proliferation of marijuana. The reconstruction of the definition will also facilitate the subsequent removal of marijuana itself from Schedule 1. This reconstructed definition upholds our Constitution:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    We should contact our members of Congress about reconstructing the definition of marijuana to boost the cannabis industry.

  • Ole Sørensen

    Now we’re talking. 🙂