The Resurrection of Hemp

Published in the Fern Ridge Review, September 2019

Mica Derrington-Via, 44, walks down rows of chest high hemp plants, inspecting each one for the Botrytis blight brought by the early rains. Although the plants are immature still, he marks with flags those that are most important to harvest before the next round of rain. By harvesting early, he will take a hit in profit, but will hopefully avoid a total loss. Weather is only one of the gambles of hemp farming.

Derrington-Via moved to the Willamette valley in early 2017 with his wife Noora, who was originally from the area. Together they started Keheela Valley Homestead near Lorane, Oregon, where they live and raise their son, Malakai, as well as chickens, vegetables, fruits, and an acre of hemp.

Hemp has had a turbulent history in the United States. Due to its versatility in making food, cloth, oil, rope, paper, and more, hemp was grown extensively throughout the country during the colonial era and into the early 20th century. All the way until the 1930’s when it fell under the same scrutiny and restrictions of its intoxicating counterpart, marijuana.

The difference between hemp and marijuana can be simplified as the concentration of the compound delta-nine tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), known for its psychoactive effects. In recreational marijuana, the THC content can range from five percent and up. To be classified as hemp under current standards, the THC content must be 0.3 percent or lower.

Derrington-Via stands in his field of hemp.

“Hemp and marijuana were lumped in the same category,” said Derrington-Via. “It never actually became illegal until the seventies. But it came to the point where you had to get a marijuana tax waiver, but they weren’t giving any waivers. So they kind of did a backdoor thing.”

In the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, hemp became classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, subject to regulation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency, effectively ending hemp cultivation in the country.

Just last year, however, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the controlled substances list and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, making it federally legal to grow hemp again, with each state deciding their own rules.

So hemp is back, but with a twist. In the years that it sat in prohibition, the US saw a gradual state to state decriminalization of marijuana for medicinal and even recreational use. More access to cannabis research revealed cannabidiol (CBD), a compound believed have an array of health benefits without the psychoactive effects of THC. Plant breeders began selecting for strains that would maximize CBD, while bringing THC within the 0.3 percent range of legal hemp.

Despite the vast utility of hemp, most that is grown in Oregon is for CBD products, flowers to smoke, and oils to ingest or use topically. The reason for that lies partly in the knowledge we’ve gained and partly the technology we’ve lost. “The infrastructure for processing hemp fiber is hard to find in this country anymore,” says Derrington-Via. His crop, like the majority, is destined for medicinal CBD products.

Continued in – “Hemp for Employment, a Worker Profile”

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