Hemp prohibition ended in December in the U.S., and Southern Oregon producers of this marijuana cousin are feeling heady.
“In the short term, there will be a massive rush to get hemp products to market,” said Brie Malarkey, founder and CEO of Sun God Medicinals in Central Point.
While growth opportunities for local producers will abound in 2019, the federal legalization will also open the doors for other states to grow their own hemp crops, potentially flooding the market.
“I think there will still be a place for artisan products derived from hemp,” Malarkey said.
Hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act when President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill on Dec. 20. As a result, hemp is now ready to be treated like any other agricultural crop and can be sold across state lines — a boon for Southern Oregon growers. However, federal regulators are still working out standards for hemp, so it might be a while before you can easily haul it across the country.
To be considered hemp, a cannabis plant must have less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoil, popularly known as THC, though that amount might vary depending on the state.
The Federal Drug Administration still has the authority to regulate products derived from cannabis, so there will still be some regulatory hurdles to clear from that agency, particularly for the main ingredient in hemp known as cannabidiol (CBD), which has been widely touted for its health benefits. The FDA has warned hemp producers against making unsubstantiated claims about CBDs and has so far taken a stance that CBD is a drug ingredient that would be illegal to add to food or health products.
Historically, hemp was grown for its fibers, producing rope, paper, fabrics and other materials, and for the oil found in hemp seeds, which is highly nutritious. But the cannabis industry found CBD has other health benefits — it reportedly is useful as an anti-inflammatory, for pain and other ailments, while not producing the “high.”
But some of the claims being made about CBD are unproven scientifically, and the sourcing and content of CBD products may be questionable.
“There is so much snake oil out there,” Malarkey said. “A lot of people are just chasing the money.”
She gets her hemp from an organic farm in Williams and extracts the oil at her White City facility, where it goes into various herbal products that are sold throughout Oregon under the Sun God Medicinals label.
Malarkey said 70 percent of the items she sells now contain herbal supplements, including hemp. The remaining 30 percent is derived from the drug-strain of cannabis.
With the federal prohibition lifted, Malarkey has geared up to sell her products throughout the country, expanding her Central Point facility.
She cautions that the products she sells should be part of an overall health and wellness program for her customers.
Again she cautions that her products, including those derived from cannabis, are not necessarily a cure-all, though some of her patients swear by them.
“Herbalism and plant medicine is not a magic bullet,” she said.
Throughout Oregon, 11,000 acres were registered for hemp cultivation in 2017, with Southern Oregon leading the way.
“Our biggest counties are Jackson and Josephine counties,” said Josh Olson, assistant to the hemp specialist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Because of the change in federal law, his department saw 260 applications for hemp growing licenses in December, more than double from last year.
“It’s definitely a huge upswing,” Olson said. “One of the reasons is there is a lot of push by the bigger seed distributors who have warned of possible seed shortages.”
Olson cautions that hemp producers will get more clarity on regulations for shipping out of state in 2019. In the meantime, he suggests producers consult with a lawyer and check on the regulations in a particular state.
At some point, he said, shipping hemp around the U.S. should be as easy as any other agricultural crop.
“You’ll be able to put it in a truck and ship it anywhere,” he said.
With 138 licensed hemp growers, Jackson County led the state last year in the number of hemp-growing operations by a significant margin. Josephine County came in second with 62 hemp farms, according to data from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Mark Wisnovsky, owner of Valley View Winery, grew 40,000 organic hemp plants in 2018, with most of it going to an extractor based in Colorado, but he’s been creating his own CBD formula that he has been testing on family and friends under the label Third Generation Farms.
“So many people have been asking me where I get CBD,” Wisnovsky said.
Wisnovsky said he experimented with his own dosing on CBDs and generally has found the concentration that produces the greatest benefit is twice as much as products recommend at the store.
So far, he said, 75 percent of those who’ve tried his CBDs have noticed a benefit from them.
“I’m so much more excited about CBD than I am about wine,” he said. “CBD has true positive effects on people’s health.”
Wisnovsky expects the market for hemp to increase, and Southern Oregon, with its favorable climate, is the perfect place to grow high-quality CBD cannabis.
He said the only thing hurting this region is the strong anti-cannabis sentiment from Medford officials.
“Eugene is more business friendly than Medford,” he said.
He said this will continue to undermine the local cannabis economy, driving it to other areas of the state.
Because this area produces top-quality CBD hemp, Wisnovsky said, the flower from this region will remain in demand by those who want the best product that has a local story behind it.
“Yes, there will be the ‘industrial cannabis players,'” he said. “But there will always be a need for a value-added brand behind it. There will always be a need for something family grown and local.”
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com.Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.