Since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed this past December including language that legalized the sale and production of hemp, the hemp industry has exploded across the United States. Hemp is a non-psychoactive relative of the cannabis plant, meaning it cannot get you high because it does not contain enough of the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Entrepreneurs have been developing cannabis cream for arthritis, chronic pain, and many other conditions, as well as edibles infused with CBD and products meant to be inhaled through vaporizing devices. All of this demand for CBD creates a new niche in the market for many farmers.
North Carolina and hemp
North Carolina is an excellent example of how farmers are capitalizing on the hemp industry. It has been legal to grow hemp in North Carolina since 2014 when the 2014 Farm Bill was passed. This is beneficial to many farmers in North Carolina who used to grow tobacco, as the tobacco industry is declining in America, and the demand for tobacco plants is shrinking.
With the amount of hemp currently being grown in North Carolina, it is poised to become a leader in the hemp industry and will most likely attempt to set standards for cultivation, production, and extraction.
The hemp economy
As dairy and tobacco demand declines, and climate change affects many elements of agriculture, a new sustainable domestic crop is needed in America. Many farmers will attest that it takes a couple of years of cultivation to reap a good hemp crop, but they also note that even a mediocre hemp crop will be more profitable to them than a successful tobacco crop.
The hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp reported in 2017 that over 23,000 acres in the United States were devoted to growing hemp plants. In 2018, that number skyrocketed to over 77,000. As hemp cultivation increases across the country, imports of hemp from countries like China and Canada have decreased as well, meaning the United States is becoming more self-reliant in terms of hemp.
FDA and regulation
The Food and Drug Administration still has not released concrete guidelines for how it will be regulating hemp and hemp products given this new boom in the industry. However, they did approve the first CBD, or cannabidiol-based, medication for the cessation of seizures. For many CBD and hemp advocates, this drug, called Epidiolex, is representative of a shift in mindset for many Americans and bureaucratic agencies.
Experts report that the CBD market could increase to $20 billion by the year 2022, so once the FDA releases their regulatory stance on these products, it will be intriguing to see where the market moves and how that will affect farmers.
CBD to THC
Currently, while the non-psychoactive CBD is federally legal in all 50 states, THC, the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, is only legal at the state level in specific states. As more states move to decriminalize and legalize cannabis and cannabis products, the legal cannabis economy will expand as well.
Hemp farmers who are starting to cultivate large amounts of hemp are hedging their bets, knowing that it is a simple fix to essentially switch the sexes of the hemp plants they are currently growing for them to produce higher levels of THC. Currently, however, it is not legal to grow THC-producing cannabis plants in states that are at the forefront of the CBD boom, like N0rth Carolina, so these farmers will have to wait until the tide turns towards legalization in their home states to avoid trouble with the law.
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