The Mississippi Hemp Cultivation Task Force’s draft report released on in November that stops short of a specific policy recommendation for the legislature, but provides useful information for potential legislation.

Mississippi is one of only three states where hemp cultivation is illegal and the legislature could take up the issue in January, when it returns to Jackson for the annual regular session. 

Hemp is derived from strains of the cannabis sativa plant with low amounts (0.3 percent content or less) of the psychoactive substance in marijuana known as THC. The plant can be cultivated for its fiber, which can be used in insulation, rope, textiles, and other products. 

The seeds are also a good source of protein and are edible by humans or animals. The flowers of the plant can be used for cannabidiol, or CBD oil production with possible benefits still being studied by scientists both in Mississippi and nationwide.

The report admits that some states who began pilot hemp cultivation programs under the 2014 Farm Bill — such as Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia — are at “some advantage,” but would still have to reconcile their programs with draft federal regulations that came out on October 31.

These new rules govern hemp cultivation nationally after the2018 U.S. Farm Bill authorized the growing and sale of hemp. 

The report says that the state will have the advantage, as a possible late adopter of hemp cultivation, in having the benefit of other state’s experiences.

Economics

Hemp, according to the report, has some pitfalls when it comes to whether Mississippi farmers could effectively cultivate it for profit. 

Supply chains for hemp-related products are not mature, according to the report. Also, verification issues with keeping crops below the legal 0.3 percent THC threshold and what to do if a crop goes “hot” and tests over that standard.

The report also says Kentucky’s program quickly spawned 70 licensed processors. There is also a Charleston, Mississippi-based company, Kengro, which imports Kentucky hemp for processing to fiber for animal bedding products for Ecofibre, an Australian-based company that does business in both CBD oil and hemp fiber/seed markets.

Projections from the state’s two agricultural universities, Mississippi State and Alcorn State, suggest that fiber or grain production, and especially combined production, could offer an economically viable alternative to other staple Mississippi crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. Researchers used data from Kentucky and Missouri and adjusted it for Mississippi.

Growing hemp for grain and fiber would be the state’s most profitable crop next to cotton grown in the Delta.

The report also says that more states approving hemp production means supplies will increase while prices will drop.

Agronomy

According to the report, finding hemp strains that will grow in Mississippi’s climate will be a huge obstacle to cultivation and finding such strains could take several years.

Also, there are no approved pesticides or herbicides authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The report says much research still needs to be conducted on hemp, including:

  • Crop protection products to control weed competition, disease and insects.
  • Improved harvesting and post-harvest management techniques.
  • The effects of environmental on THC level to ensure producers don’t exceed regulatory thresholds.
  • Product development.

Law enforcement and regulation

The report says that law enforcement personnel and canine officers are unable to discern the difference between marijuana and legal hemp except with laboratory analysis. 

Among the concerns about hemp cultivation include:

  • Inability to distinguish between legal hemp and marijuana (greater than 0.3 percent THC content) on the side of the road.
  • Law enforcement officers would be unable to conduct arrests and prosecutors would be unable to prosecute marijuana cases, as in areas of Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Texas where simple possession of marijuana cases aren’t being prosecuted.
  • A backlog at the Mississippi Crime Laboratory of 400 exhibits per month.
  • It would cost $500,000 for the crime lab to perform THC chemical analyses.

The report also says that since resources of state agencies needed for regulation are under stress, lawmakers much have a plan needed to “support the infrastructure needed to ensure public safety related to hemp cultivation and hemp products.”