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Why some say hemp is threatening the marijuana extract market

Chemically changing hemp extract to mimic the intoxicating compound in marijuana is becoming more common. And while the resulting CBD products aren't expected to compete with top-shelf cannabis offerings, chemically-made THC is so cheap to create some fear it could undercut established growers.

Over the past few years, Jonny Griffis has invested millions of dollars in his legal marijuana farm in northern Michigan, which produces extracts to be used in things like gummy bears and vape oils.

But now that farm – like many other licensed grows in states that have legalized marijuana – faces an existential threat: high-inducing cannabis compounds derived not from the heavily regulated and taxed legal marijuana industry, but from a chemical process involving less strictly regulated, cheaply grown hemp.

“It’s going to make our farm obsolete,” Griffis, the chief operating officer of True North Collective, testified before Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency recently. “The $3 million or so that I’ve invested … is going to be wiped out.”

At the center of the issue is THC, marijuana’s main intoxicating component. While marijuana and hemp are the same plant – cannabis – the distinction between the two is a legal one, and comes down to the amount of THC in the plant, specifically the amount of a type of THC called delta-9.

Hemp is defined in federal law by its low delta-9 THC content and is traditionally used for food, clothing and industrial applications. “Rope not dope” was long a motto for those who advocated the legalization of hemp.

But since Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, authorizing the growing of hemp nationwide in accordance with state or tribal licensing programs, there’s been an unforeseen consequence: People exploiting what they see as a loophole in the law have taken that hemp, extracted a non-intoxicating compound called CBD, and chemically changed it — generally by the addition of solvents and heat — into various types of impairing THC.

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