Low-THC Cannabis: A Brave New World for Smokable Hemp

The emerging hemp industry continues to find new and innovative ways to infiltrate the consumer market. With advanced extraction methods, combined with remediation and isolation systems, and processes like nano-encapsulation, hemp producers have unlimited scientific technology to develop a broad range of CBD-infused products. From food and beverages to lotions and cosmetics, and even clothing, hemp-derived CBD has found its way into everything.

However, a growing segment of the hemp market suggests that keeping it simple might be the more lucrative way to go. In September 2020, Nielsen and Hemp Industry Daily released a report predicting a five-fold increase in sales for smokable hemp products in the next five years.

In an interview with Will Trienens, CEO and Co-Founder of Cannaflower, he stated, “I think that’s underestimated and that the trajectory for this market is just getting warmed up.”

In fact, Trienens is so confident in the future of smokable hemp he said, “Much of our time right now is spent just preparing for this acceleration.”

A Lesson in Supply and Demand

Once the Farm Bill passed in 2018, the industry witnessed a swift uptick in hemp farming as producers tried to cash-in on the CBD craze. Unfortunately, with the increased hemp acreage planted in 2019, the market for CBD-rich biomass tanked, dropping to an average of $1 – $5 per pound depending on the region.

Interestingly though, smokable hemp appears to be holding its value.

According to the latest report from PanXchange’s Hemp Markets Benchmarks, “smokable flower continues to garner a massive premium compared to biomass, ranging from $100-$800 per pound.” The report suggests the wide price spread is due to product variables, such as “nose,” trim., and other quality factors. However, PanXchange also noted that “indoor/climate-controlled material will always obtain a significant premium versus outdoor.”

What’s in a Name? CBD-Rich Hemp vs. Low-THC Cannabis

As the hemp industry gained federal approval and hemp farms proliferated across the United States, most producers quickly distanced themselves from legal cannabis by clearly labeling their goods as hemp products. Remediation technologies allow producers to proudly label their products THC-free to capitalize on a demographic still hesitant about the infamous compound.

Although the government defines hemp by its low THC content, the scientific fact is that hemp is cannabis and vice versa. At its most basic classification, low-THC hemp and high-THC cannabis belong to the same plant family, cannabaceae; genus, cannabis, species cannabis sativa L.

And, as Chris McCandless taught us, we need to “call everything by its right name,” so Cannaflower is taking bold steps on a road less traveled, marketing their legal, CBD-rich smokable hemp as “Low-THC Cannabis.”

Trienens mentioned their mission has always been “to grow and treat their hemp like traditional cannabis” in terms of seed to sale processes. He admits when they first started, it was a little unnerving, “selling a product online, through the mail, that looks, tastes, and smells like traditional cannabis.”

However, in light of the growing acceptance of hemp and the essential designation of cannabis in 2020, Trienens admits, “We are leaning very heavily into calling this a low-THC cannabis product.”

Confidence Comes from Compliance

Despite the risk of aligning themselves with the cannabis industry, Trienens believes the consumable hemp industry should be taking lessons from its predecessor. Where the hemp industry lacks regulation and testing standards, the cannabis industry is strictly governed by state laws and mandates.

“The first step is ensuring the product we’re selling meets the criteria of being legal; from our perspective, that is number one,” Trienens shared. Then, drafting off the legal cannabis industry, Cannaflower uses processes common to the sector, including methods for cultivation, harvesting, handling, storage, curing, and trimming.

Also, taking another page from the cannabis playbook, the smokable hemp producer sets the bar for laboratory analysis in hemp. To date, laboratory tests are not mandated, but Trienens understands earning the consumer’s trust starts with data transparency. Cannaflower products are tested throughout the cultivation and manufacturing process, ensuring their products are contaminant and heavy metal-free. Additional tests provide consumers with a full analysis of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

But is Smokable Hemp Legal?

Under the Federal Farm Bill, hemp and hemp products are legal nationwide. But, just as a few states have legalized cannabis at a state-level, some states may also opt to keep hemp under tight restrictions.

A handful of states including, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Texas, have imposed bans on smokable hemp products. In Iowa, new rules set by the state’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, not only bans the inhalation of hemp but makes selling, possessing, and consuming inhalable hemp products, including hemp flower and vape pens, punishable by law. As a serious misdemeanor, retailers selling it, or consumers caught using it, face up to a year of jail time and a fine of $315-$1,875.

Many state lawmakers justify the bans based on their continued criminalization of marijuana. Since smokable hemp is virtually impossible to distinguish from high-THC cannabis, this creates a problem for law enforcement. Currently, most roadside tests for marijuana cannot detect the level of THC, so even legal hemp products can trigger a positive indication. Criminalizing hemp seems like a counter-intuitive approach, considering decriminalization of marijuana would eliminate the confusion and reduce the workload required on police officers.

Blurring the Lines

Without question, the legalization of hemp has contributed to the growing acceptance of the legal cannabis industry. As more people begin to warm up to the idea of hemp-derived products, then realize that hemp is cannabis, it helps to change perspectives and reduce misconceptions about the herb.

With just a twist in terminology, the lines between hemp and cannabis start to blur. And, whether you call it hemp flower, CBD flower, or low-THC cannabis, smokable hemp is a market segment in the hemp industry not to be underestimated.

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