August 2018

COLUMN: HEMP NOTEBOOK N ot all hemp misinformation comes from anti-drug enemies of cannabis. Some of it comes from hemp acolytes themselves. A recent comment from hemp’s most powerful friend in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McCo- nnell, drove home for me a nagging problem in hemp advocacy. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is a champion of hemp legalization and the father of the modern U.S. hemp industry, thanks to his role in getting limited cultivation of the plant included in the 2014 Farm Bill. He’s now talking about removing any barriers to hemp production and mar- ket innovation. Exciting stuff, surely. McConnell was asked by Capitol reporters last spring whether his sup- port for hemp extended to marijuana, another variant of the cannabis sativa plant. No way, he said. Hemp and mari- juana? “Two entirely separate plants,” McConnell proclaimed. “It is a different plant,” he went on. “It has an illicit cousin, which I choose not to embrace.” Case closed. Hemp advocates have trained the senator well. Problem is, the argument isn’t exactly true. Hemp and marijuana? They’re not entirely separate plants. If hemp is a golden retriever, mari- juana is a Rottweiler. They may look Kristen Nichols Separate and Unequal? Hemp’s scramble to distance itself from marijuana veers into misinformation By Kristen Nichols and act different, but they’re both dogs. If someone wants to promote golden retrievers? Awesome. But if they do it by demonizing Rottweilers? Not as cool. Hemp’s long road to political acceptance has relied heavily on selling the plant’s distinction from marijuana. “Hemp can’t get you high!” advocates repeat over and over. It’s a compelling argument, one that has politicians rushing to embrace hemp. The plant can revive American agriculture and manufac- turing and help sick people looking for alternatives to pharmaceutical treatments. But to argue that hemp is “entirely separate” from marijuana is to ignore botany. It is to argue that one variant of a plant is bad because it has been bred to enhance one cannabinoid (THC), while another variant of the same plant is good because it was bred to enhance some other attribute, like tough stalks or oil-rich seeds. Even the federal threshold for hemp versus marijuana, 0.3% THC, has little basis in science. It’s simply an agreed-upon threshold that allows governments to assign criminal pen- alties for growing, selling or possess- ing the “wrong” kind of cannabis. And hemp growers know full well that “innocent” low-THC hemp varietals could be manipulated in the hands of a seasoned botanist to enhance THC content, just as hemp can be bred to enhance CBD. I don’t fault hemp acolytes for spending many years distancing hemp from the variant of cannabis that makes the drug marijuana. It’s likely the very reason hemp has even limited federal legal protection today. And it’s reasonable to believe that increasing public acceptance of hemp will one day translate into public acceptance for high-THC marijuana, too. But hemp activists should pause when they hear their arguments repeated the way McConnell recently stated. What does it mean for future cannabis policy if we draw a bright line between variants of the same plant? Even more troubling are hemp acolytes doing the same thing that drug warriors used to do: spouting half-truths and misinformation to achieve a desired result. No one in the hemp lobby stood to correct Sen. McConnell’s boneheaded assertion. Hemp’s time in the spotlight shouldn’t come at the expense of keeping marijuana in the shadows. I believe hemp can lead the way for the United States to rethink its overall cannabis policy. But the way to get there isn’t to demonize marijuana. ◆ Kristen Nichols covers hemp for Mari- juana Business Magazine. Reach her at . 32 • Marijuana Business Magazine • August 2018