LANSING — More than 550 Michigan farmers grew ‚Äúindustrial hemp” last year. That figure is only expected to rise as the newly legal industry takes hold in Michigan and across the nation.
Surging interest in the formerly illegal cannabis crop — essentially marijuana with a negligible amount of the high-inducing compound THC — is evidenced by the number of tickets already sold for an upcoming hemp farming expo in Lansing on Friday, Jan. 10 and Saturday, Jan. 11.
‚ÄúSold out, sorry,‚ÄĚ the expo website says beneath the VIP all-access pass section to the event. The VIP tickets cost $349 and sold out weeks ago, said David Crabill, the spokesman for iHemp Michigan, the trade organization hosting the event in the Lansing Convention Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.
Nearly 320 of those attendees will have special access to speakers and other amenities unavailable to the general public. However, public tickets remain available.
Two-day public passes, which include entrance to the expo floor with nearly 80 exhibitors and dozens of speakers, including presentations by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and a Friday networking cash-bar event, are being sold for $70. Single-day Saturday tickets cost $30 and members of iHemp Michigan, an organization with nearly 100 business members, receive a $25 discount.
Memberships to iHemp Michigan cost $50 per year for individuals and $100 per year for businesses.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of enthusiasm for hemp‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúa lot of investment coming into Michigan as the industry develops,‚ÄĚ Crabill said. ” … We‚Äôre building a new industry, so we need people from all skill sets to come together and make this happen.
He expects speakers and as many as 1,000 attendees to come from as far as California and Oregon.
Since hemp farming is in renewed infancy — it was made illegal to grow in the 1938 Marijuana Tax Act and remained a controlled substance until the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill — new farmers and support businesses have a lot to learn, Crabill said.
Michigan quickly created a state licensing program following passage of the 2018 federal farm bill that legalized commercial hemp. MDARD charges $100 for hemp grow applications and $1,350 for processor-handler applications.
‚ÄúWhile there is a lot of excitement around the state‚Äôs newest crop, many questions remain on the long-term, overall regulation of hemp, CBD and hemp products,‚ÄĚ MDARD spokeswoman Jennifer Holton said. “There is a steep learning curve for everyone involved in this budding commodity ‚Äď farmers, federal and state regulators and local authorities.
‚ÄúMDARD looks forward to seeing where this new commodity goes in 2020 and beyond.‚ÄĚ
Last year, Michigan‚Äôs 572 licensed hemp farmers, with the help of 423 processors, harvested 30,000 acres of land. How much hemp that land yielded is expected to be released as part of an MDARD first-year pilot program report this spring, Holton said.
With hemp planting season remains months away, 238 hemp farming licenses have been issued so far for this year‚Äôs growing season. Holton said there are no estimates as to how many licenses the agency expects to issue.
Hemp and marijuana, which remains an illegal controlled substance alongside heroin at the federal level, although it‚Äôs legal for recreational and medical use in Michigan, come from the same plant, cannabis sativa. The plants look and smell very similar; however, they‚Äôre regulated completely differently.
MDARD regulates hemp as a crop. The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency regulates marijuana as a product like alcohol.
The similarities have led to some confusion among law enforcement. New York police in November boasted about the seizure of a 106-pound marijuana shipment ‚Äúdestined for our city streets.‚ÄĚ
It was later determined the marijuana was actually legal industrial hemp.
Hemp is defined as containing less than .3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, the compound in marijuana that causes an intoxicating high.
The proliferation of lucrative CBD oil, a loosely regulated cannabis extract used as a natural remedy for anxiety, insomnia, depression and pain, among other ailments, is credited for piqued interest in hemp farming.
CBD products are readily available for sale at convenience stores across Michigan — even at the Family Video movie rental chain — as concentrates added to drinks, food and tinctures, a liquid form that can be placed under the tongue with a dropper.
Crabill said most of Michigan‚Äôs new hemp farmers entered the market with CBD profits in mind, but he‚Äôs excited to watch the industry morph as demand for hemp and its extracts increase to include countless other products, including lubricants, textiles and to replace oil-based plastics.
Crabill said a lack of processing facilities, which can cost millions of dollars, and immature farming technology that allows for large-scale harvesting, are delaying expansion.
Right now, many first-time hemp farmers are employing laborers to manually and tediously tend or harvest crops.
Companies like California-base Formation Ag, one of the exhibitors and sponsors of the Lansing hemp farming expo, are quickly advancing the industry by designing hemp-specific, large-scale farm equipment to increase efficiency, Carbill said.
Genetics are also a big topic of discussion, since the presence of more than .3% of THC may result in the total loss of a farmer‚Äôs crop.
‚ÄúIn a couple of years, we‚Äôre going to be growing more for fiber and grain, and that (will be done) on a large scale, mechanically,” Crabill said. ‚ÄúThose who are able to figure it out and are able to scale up are going to be very successful.”
— Gus Burns is the marijuana beat reporter for MLive. Contact him with questions, tips or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @GusBurns. Read more from MLive about medical and recreational marijuana.
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