The demand for licenses to grow hemp has exceeded state officials' expectations. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses profitable aspects of the hemp industry and how Oklahoma hopes to model its certification program on states like Colorado.
Katelyn Howard: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Katelyn Howard, and joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Given the number of medical marijuana dispensaries popping up in communities across the state, it probably comes as no surprise to many that the demand for medical marijuana grower licenses is strong. But as your reporter Brian Brus writes, one thing that did come as a surprise for state officials was the demand for licenses to grow hemp. According to the state Department of Agriculture, the number of licenses issued to grow hemp in Oklahoma this year has reached 328. And that number of licenses is about an 18% increase from three weeks ago when this article was originally published. Can you first start by explaining what the differences are between medical marijuana and industrial hemp?
Ray: Although cannabis and hemp come from similar species and both contain THC, they have significantly different compositions and uses. Hemp and marijuana are simply broad classifications of cannabis that were adopted into our culture. "Hemp" is a term used to classify varieties of cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content. “Marijuana” is a term used to classify varieties of cannabis that contain more than 0.3% THC and can induce euphoric effects on the user.
Howard: Now some people might not realize that hemp produces CBD, which is one of the most profitable aspects of the hemp industry.
Ray: That’s right. Hemp produces more CBD than it does THC. CBD is legal to buy, sell or use in Oklahoma as long as it has no more than 0.3% THC. There has been an increase of CBD stores across the state. The oil derived from CBD is believed to have therapeutic effects for anxiety, pain and cognitive problems. Marijuana also can be bred for CBD, but users typically are more interested in its THC content.
Howard: And this demand for hemp growing licenses comes a year after former Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill launching the state’s first industrial hemp pilot program.
Ray: That’s right. In June of 2018, former Gov. Mary Fallin approved a rule that allowed quicker licensing approval to grow hemp in accordance with the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. Under that program, growers with an agreement with a higher education institution and a license from the state were allowed to plant hemp for commercial purposes. In April, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 868, which modified the pilot program and reclassified it as a permanent program under the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.
Howard: Since this industry is still new to Oklahoma, the state has had to base its standards, processes and seeds on other states like California, Colorado and Oregon.
Ray: Yes. A government agency must ensure that seeds will grow into low-THC plants. Ag officials are looking forward to the day when Oklahoma has its own certification system, but in a young industry like we have here in Oklahoma, certification standards take time to develop. Oklahoma only has a skeleton of its own certification program. Right now, the state is looking at what other states such as Colorado are doing and will decide what system would be best for Oklahoma.
Howard: According to the state’s Ag Department, only 44 companies growing hemp in Oklahoma have been certified for using low-THC seed. Can you tell us about some of these companies?
Ray: Yes. Midwestern Organics LLC has only a single variety of hemp seed approved by the Ag Department. The seed was acquired from another business in Colorado. Midwestern Organics is based in Wichita Falls, Texas, and is growing all of its hemp in Oklahoma. Herb’s Herbs in Guthrie has been cleared by the state to grow six varieties. And we’re told hemp operations in Oklahoma grow plants in three ways: straight from the seed, seedling transplants and clone propagation .
Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for talking with me today, Russell.
Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank you.
Howard: For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I’m Katelyn Howard.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.