Now, however, the farm, like other licensed growers in states with legalized marijuana, faces a serious threat: High-inducing cannabis compound that is not derived from the highly regulated and taxed legal cannabis industry but rather from a chemical process that uses less tightly regulated, cheaper hemp.
Griffis, chief operating officer at True North Collective, stated that "it's going to render our farm obsolete." He testified in front of Michigan's Marijuana Regulatory Agency. "The $3 million or more that I have invested... will be erased."
THC, the main intoxicating ingredient of marijuana, is at the heart of this issue. Although marijuana and hemp are both cannabis, the legal distinction is made by the amount and type of THC found in the plant.
Federal law defines hemp as having a low delta-9 THC level. Hemp has been used traditionally for food, clothing, and industrial purposes. For those who supported legalization of hemp, "Rope not Dope" was a long-held motto.
The 2018 Farm Bill was passed by Congress, authorizing hemp to be grown in the United States in accordance with tribal or state licensing programs. But there has been an unexpected consequence. People have taken hemp and extracted CBD from it, chemically altered it (generally through the addition of solvents) into different types of THC impairment.
Contrary to synthetic marijuana, which can be dangerous and completely artificial, like Spice or K2, the chemically produced THC is made from molecules that are found in cannabis. However, these molecules can sometimes be very small. It is far more cost-effective to create THC from hemp than it is to extract it from cannabis.
It is made from hemp and can be found in vape oils, candies and other products. This is even in states that have legalized marijuana. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration warned that these substances pose a public safety risk because of multiple factors including how they are promoted and the possibility of contamination during manufacturing.
Although at least 17 states have banned these products, they are still available in many others, including Washington state, which is a pioneering legal marijuana state. There, gas station and vape shop sales of THC from hemp provide competition to the highly taxed, regulated, and tested marijuana market.
Virginia legislators have approved a bill to limit the amount THC permitted in hemp-derived products. Gov. Glenn Youngkin is yet to sign it. Recent lawsuits in Kentucky and Georgia have sought to prove that delta-8 products were legal. A Kentucky judge sided on February 28 with hemp advocates, allowing the products for sale while lawmakers consider a ban.
U.S. Hemp Roundtable is a group representing the hemp industry. They have condemned the use of CBD-extracted hemp to make intoxicating products.
Chemically derived THC is considered economically and environmentally-friendly by supporters. Hemp can be grown outdoors in large fields without the need for expensive lighting and has a lower carbon footprint than cannabis.
They also believe that processors can create a consistent product by using chemistry to produce THC from CBD. Regulators shouldn't be able to stop market innovation or choose winners and losers within the industry. It's like adding artificially created vanilla to your food or drinks with caffeine.
"Most growers don’t like hearing this because it takes away their market, but it’s a great product," stated Abe Fleishman of Northstar Hemp, Oregon. It allows companies to scale up production and create a new product that I believe is cleaner than regular THC products.
Critics say that the safety of the method isn't established. The process can also leave behind trace amounts unidentifiable compounds. This method allows the production of lesser-known cannabis compounds, whose effects on health aren't fully understood.
Although chemically produced THC will not replace top-shelf cannabis flower, it is still a viable option.
Griffis stated that he has seen the delta-9 distillate price drop from $50,000 per liter to $6,000, and continue to fall as more THC-derived hemp is introduced into the market.
Gillian Schauer, executive Director of the Cannabis Regulators Association, stated that "it's something almost every state cannabis regulator thinks about." It presents a lot of challenges for protecting public health, consumer safety, as well as protecting existing state cannabis markets.
Schauer stated that THC can be chemically extracted from hemp, but this is just the tip of an iceberg. It can also come from bioengineered yeast. Regulators will soon have to deal with that.
The Marijuana Regulatory Agency in Michigan is looking at rules that would allow processors convert CBD to THC. This would require product testing and demonstrations of the method. They would also need to label their product synthetic, a proposal that angers processors who point out that these molecules can be found in nature.
Oregon's Liquor and Cannabis Commission granted marijuana licensees a grace period of six months to sell off any intoxicating THC from-hemp products that they have already acquired before July's ban.
California does not allow hemp-derived THC products in legal marijuana shops. However, regulators are looking at the steps to allow them.
Washington and Colorado, which were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012, made it clear last year that synthetically derived cannabinoids (including THC) are not permitted in their legal markets.
After a commotion from licensed growers, who claimed they were being undercut by the board, Washington's Liquor and Cannabis Board seized over 1,600 pounds (726 kg) of chemically-created THC products manufactured by Unicorn Brands, a single licensed marijuana business. They were then banned from the regulated cannabis market.
The board's chairman David Postman believes that THC extracted from hemp is an industrialization of cannabis. This is something he doesn't think voters wanted when they passed Washington state's legal marijuana law. It was originally billed as a harm reduction measure.
Postman stated that the LCB and most of the cannabis industry don't believe the legal market should allow mind-impairing, laboratory-created THC. "Allowing synthetically derived THC to be sold in the state's cannabis market could spell doom for the industry."
Vicki Christophersen is a lobbyist for Washington CannaBusiness Association. She claims that the board's approach to innovation is stifling. Washington will be unable to compete nationally if the federal ban on marijuana is ever lifted.
She stated that "the collaborations between the hemp industry, and the adult-use marijuana industry are not only necessary but important." We need to consider what will help Washington's cannabis industry grow alongside other states that are moving at a faster pace than us.