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Partners See Future For Hemp As Viable Commercial Crop

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While medical marijuana has been making headlines in Arkansas over the past three years, a local couple has been working toward hemp’s return as a significant commercial crop.

Ethan Hodek and Maggy Rhein of Round Mountain are participating in a pilot program through the Arkansas Department of Agriculture in hopes of seeing hemp make a comeback for a variety of uses – none of them involve “getting high.”

Though recreational marijuana and some medicinal varieties have a high level of the psychoactive compound THC, the varieties grown by Hodek and Rhein have less than .3 percent THC, and thus qualify as hemp.

Hemp also produces cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and other sought-after compounds. Ethan says there are more than 120 known medicinal compounds in hemp.

The partners are part of the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program authorized by the 2014 federal Farm Bill and initiated in Arkansas in 2019. As of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation is allowed in all 50 states, regulated by individual state laws.

“Basically,” Ethan says, “since 2018, CBD and all these hemp compounds have been completely federally legal in all 50 states.”

To help illustrate the difference between hemp and marijuana, they use tomatoes as an analogy, saying a person can grow a large tomato suitable for slicing, or use different seeds to grow a small cherry tomato.

Maggy explains: “They’re both tomatoes, the plants look very similar as they’re growing, they smell the same, but the fruit/product that you’re gonna harvest at the end serves a different purpose.”
Research has produced specific genetic varieties with high CBD or high CBG in the flowers, which is the focus of plants grown for medicinal purposes. Other varieties may grow 20 feet tall and be used for fiber.

It is all cannabis sativa. Legally, Ethan explains, cannabis sativa producing less than .3 percent THC is hemp, and cannabis sativa producing more than .3 percent THC is marijuana.

“Genetics are so much different,” Ethan says. “What somebody is growing in their warehouse under lights for the medical marijuana program is a completely different seed and plant genetic lineage than the cannabis we’re growing out here in the organic soil under the sun that’s producing high CBD instead of high THC.”

Maggy says they work with different varieties obtained from reputable sources so that when they obtain seeds, they can trust them to be what is expected. State inspectors visit the farm and take random samples during growing season, and the samples are tested at the state lab before approval is given to harvest.

“They literally come and test each variety that we have,” Ethan says.

Read the full story in the Jan. 26 issue.

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