Industrial hemp is once again legal in the United States. But as with any good thing in this country that insists it is still the “Land of the Free,” there is always a trade-off somewhere to compensate for the illusion of rights. Perhaps this is the reason that some citizens do not trust their Uncle Sam. But on the flip side, that old, wrinkled, fire-breathing icon of the American institution does not trust us either. So, while the suited soldiers of the federal government may have unleashed the idea of bringing hemp production around again after more than eight decades, they are also forcing all of the farmers who get into the cultivation of this revisited cash crop to forfeit their privacy. Welcome to agriculture 2.0 inside the Paranoid States of America.
A section of the 2018 Farm Bill, which was brought to the table last year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then signed into law by President Donald Trump, stipulates that anyone wanting to grow industrial hemp in the U.S. must provide the GPS coordinates to their farms during the application process.
In some states, however, the business of hemp farmers is being kept mostly private. Michigan’s hemp law prevents state officials from making information about farmers and their crops part of the public record. It is one of several changes ushered in by state Sen. Dan Lauwers to protect hemp farmers and their crops from hooligans who might try to vandalize or steal hemp plants for profit. The lawmaker was especially concerned for the safety of hemp farms as a result of the latest CBD craze. Because while most marijuana cultivation operations these days are confined to indoor facilities, hemp is still grown outdoors in the same manner as corn and soybeans.
So, unlike the state’s medical marijuana program, where almost every aspect of pot farm life is out there for anyone to see, there is no searchable database available in Michigan to show who is involved with hemp production. In ways, this is good, as it keeps hemp farmers under the radar, free to conduct their business without putting it all on front street for everyone to ogle. But then again, some worry that this level of super-secrecy might prevent business relationships from flourishing. Yes, there are actually hemp farmers upset that their identities are being kept private.
“I don’t see any benefits to keeping the farmers’ identities private,” Jeff Gallagher, managing member of a Michigan-based hemp processing company, told Hemp Industry Daily.
On the other hand, there are industry representatives who believe that while hemp farmers are entitled to just as much privacy as any other farmer, a list of licensed participants should be made available to law enforcement.
The problem is marijuana and hemp are close relatives, and they look a lot alike. The trick to keeping hemp plants in line with the law is ensuring that they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. Some farmers say they test their plants weekly to keep close tabs on the THC levels of their plants. And if any of the crops should test above the legally allotted THC threshold, those crops are destroyed. They have to be. Any plant that ranks above the THC limit is unusable in Michigan’s hemp market. But if none of these farmers are registered, what is stopping the police from launching an investigation to determine whether the crop is above board or part of an illegal pot operation?
This conundrum is all part of the reason that hemp was made illegal back in 1937 in the first place. Lawmakers didn’t have any answers as to how law enforcement would determine the difference between hemp and marijuana, so they decided to ban both to keep things simple. What is interesting is that after all of these years, police still do not have more sophisticated technology at their disposal to tell the difference between the two cannabis plants. As we have seen in states like Texas, prosecutors are having a tough time sealing the deal on felony marijuana cases because they simply cannot prove the plant isn’t hemp. Finding laboratories that can facilitate this task hasn’t been easy, and the cost involved hardly makes it a worthwhile pursuit. It would cost hundreds of dollars to test each sample and present the findings in court. Going forward with such a thing could potentially create a backlog of marijuana cases and, quite honestly, nobody wants the burden. We shall see this confusion in more states soon.
In a lot of ways, the legalization of industrial hemp, while creating some privacy concerns for farmers, makes it more likely that marijuana will go legal nationwide in the foreseeable future. As more states get into the groove of hemp production within the next year or so, law enforcement officials all over the country, especially in the heartland of the U.S., are going to run themselves ragged trying to uphold two different laws (legal hemp, illegal marijuana) on a similar product.
And if prosecutors are not able to effectively move felony marijuana cases forward, we will likely find that more jurisdictions will throw their hands in the air and opt to collect the tax revenue instead.
TELL US, would you opt in to potential GPS surveillance?