Colorado cannabis officials are tasked with figuring out how to prevent marijuana and hemp pollen from interfering, but they must first learn more about the outdoors.
Although technically the same plant genus, marijuana and hemp are grown for two different reasons in Colorado. Marijuana’s intoxicating compound, THC, is still banned federally, while hemp is grown for industrial purposes or extracted into non-intoxicating medicinal compounds, such as CBD, as long as the hemp flowers have less than 0.3 percent THC. But the two plants can easily cross-pollinate miles away from each other when grown outdoors.
As Colorado’s marijuana and hemp industries each expand and more growers choose to work outdoors, the issue of cross-pollination between hemp and marijuana has been a delicate but pressing issue between the two industries. Marijuana plants grown for THC content are feminized and have no seeds, just like hemp grown for CBD. However, industrial hemp grown for grain and fiber is full of seeds and pollen, which can pollinate seedless cannabis plants, including hemp. Because hemp cannot legally test higher than 0.3 percent THC, cross-pollination between the two can result in major economic, quality, and strength losses for marijuana growers.
According to Jordan Wellington, a partner for marijuana business consulting firm VS Strategies, the consequences could result in six-figure losses for marijuana farmers in areas like Pueblo County, where hemp farms and most of Colorado’s outdoor marijuana cultivation are located.
“The point of this is to come up with solutions on how people who grow this plant for multiple purposes can coexist in Colorado to grow our state’s economy,” Wellington said during a public committee meeting on Oct. 25 with the state. Marijuana Enforcement Department (WITH).
Despite the reported problems in Pueblo Country, Colorado Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Program do not have many examples to work with.
“We do not really have a good reporting structure for crops that have been disposed of or destroyed due to unwanted pollination,” CDA Industrial Hemp Program Manager Brian Koontz said during the MED meeting. “It has happened, but the most common cause is because they are not compatible or have been destroyed by cows, insects or diseases.”
House bill 1301, a new law allowing marijuana growers to set up a contingency plan to prevent crop losses in extreme weather conditions, also requires the MED to convene a working group to investigate the effects and causes of cross-pollination between cannabis plants. The group, made up of representatives of the marijuana and hemp industry, lawyers and plant science experts, will prepare recommendations to MED before the department issues a final report to the Legislative Committee on Agriculture by 1 November 2022.
During the meeting, Logan Goolsby, an independent marijuana business compliance manager, said he has notified MED and CDA of cross-pollination incidents, but a lack of enforcement makes it difficult to come up with a solution.
“Complaints are thrown back and forth like a football,” Goolsby said. “I ask this working group to determine an enforcement body. If there is a complaint, [then] who enforces it and to what level? I think it would help a lot to understand the process going forward. ”
The first proposals to track and address cross-pollination include an incident report from CDA or MED to track pollination patterns and a study of marijuana and hemp companies to understand what needs to be investigated and discussed before making recommendations.
There was some disagreement among the working group members as to whether the report’s recommendations should focus on the economic impact of cross-pollination or more scientific research.
“In the future, this will be a big problem when larger companies start deciding where to invest their capital,” said Jonathan McIntosh, a managing partner of Ordway marijuana cultivation Humble Farms. “The states that can solve this problem, they will be prioritized.”
Hemp farmers, however, do not want to rush any mandates.
“We step on a very slippery slope here,” said Veronica Carpio, a hemp farmer and founder of the hemp industry group Grow Hemp Colorado. “There are very clear goals to be met for the prevention and reduction of cross-pollination. Colorado is the first state to bring hemp and marijuana together in this way. If we do not get it right, it could backfire on us.”
At future meetings, the committee will discuss how to collect data on the proximity of hemp and marijuana farms, as well as best practices for reducing cross-pollination among cannabis plants. The issue of wild marijuana, or wild cannabis, could also be addressed.
Wild cannabis can grow in a variety of ways, but the most common cause in Colorado is from wild animals that eat, carry or lose seeds. BoCo Farm’s hemp cultivation owner Grant Orvis, a geneticist with a background in cannabis cultivation, suggested that members consider wild cannabis areas and pollen travel patterns when making their recommendations.
“We know that cannabis pollen travels very far, but how far viable cannabis pollen travels is probably one of the most important questions to answer,” Orvis said.
The next cross-pollination working group meeting is scheduled for November 19th.
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