CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Few plants are as rooted in controversy as this nine-leaved crop—and few have as many uses. Cannabis sativa, the scientific name of the plant, is commonly known to produce THC, which is responsible for the “high” feeling some people get when they ingest or smoke its leaves and flower. That one chemical is one of over a hundred and was the target of the Controlled Substances Act in 1937 that declared the plant an illegal drug. But a hemp plant is now differentiated legally from the drug because it has to have an incredibly low THC content.
“I once joked that if you smoked the whole acre of [hemp], you’d get emphysema, not high,” said Dr. Louis McDonald, Professor of Environmental Soil Chemistry and Soil Fertility at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, who researches hemp plants at the university, “But the stigma is there. There’s no doubt about it.”
Hemp was legalized in 2014, when a Farm Bill called the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed and allowed people to grow industrial hemp with a license for market research, as long as the plant doesn’t go over 0.3% THC. But it wasn’t as simple as Congress passing a bill for the hemp industry to grow.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture began taking applications and licensing farmers and researchers in 2016. Even then, it took a couple of years for farmers to become interested in hemp. John Moredock, Hemp Program Coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, said that in the beginning, they really only had WVU researchers and a handful of farmers who wanted to take on the challenge of breaking into a new market.
Stigma and misconception
While hemp farmers face many issues, misconceptions about hemp remain a barrier for them. Hemp is incapable of getting someone intoxicated, but negative perceptions about marijuana affect the public’s opinion on hemp.
“I think this is probably just going to exist forever, but my experience is a lot of the general public still don’t quite understand the difference or that there even is a difference between hemp and medical cannabis because it is the same plant,” said Moredock, “If you go to the field and you look at these plants, there’s no way to tell if they’re going to pass or fail [the THC test]. They look exactly like medical cannabis grown in California.”
This has led to reports of people stealing crops, which is part of the reason that WVU started growing hemp in a locked greenhouse. However, Tiffany Fess, Hemp Farmer and WVU Graduate Student, believes that over the past five years, people have become much more educated and open minded about hemp in general.
“I think for the most part, it has gotten moved out of that stigmatized zone a little bit, and now that we have medical marijuana, too, I think that helps,” Fess said, “You know, there’s dispensaries popping up everywhere. It’s not such a shocking thing. A field of cannabis plants will still shock the normal individual, but I think it’s really great. It’s a really great crop.”
Dr. Michael Gutensohn, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, who also does research on hemp plants, shared the same sentiment—that the stigma is starting to go away as people are exposed to more products made from hemp crops.
“For example, personally I had a jacket that was made from hemp fibers, and I really liked it because it’s fairly cool and pleasant to wear, and you don’t see from the outside that it’s made from hemp fibers. It just looks normal,” said Dr. Gutensohn. He also gave the example of printing paper–if someone uses paper that is made from hemp fibers, they might not even notice that it’s hemp unless they examined the packaging.
“So, I think that’s what we’re going to see more and more–products that are just normal. We perceive them as normal products and you’re probably not even aware that there’s some hemp in there,” Dr. Gutensohn explained.
Joy and Hemp
Joy and Hemp, a CBD company in Morgantown, is located at the intersection of Greenbag Road and Kingwood Pike. It’s run by a group of siblings, Ted, Jennifer, and Mary Hastings as well as Patrick Kyle, who inherited the land and had the idea to plant hemp since they had good farmland on a well-trafficked road.
“We thought it was going to be a shock factor—you know, there’s cannabis on the side of the road here,” said Kyle, “But then it was like, oh, this is actually helping people and it’s profitable. So, we kept doing it.”
They said starting up the business was pretty smooth thanks to help from local farmer Mike Manypenny, and since then, the family has continued the tradition by assisting other locals who want to grow hemp.
“I definitely couldn’t have done it without him as far as the market goes. It’s kind of like the wild west. It’s a new market; it’s very volatile,” Kyle explained.
The other factors, they say, led to their success is having access to good soil and Kyle’s knowledge on hemp plants which he gained by working on hemp farms in California.
“All the soil comes down from the hill and fills into the valley. Over many, many years, soil erodes and fills into the flat areas, so the soil is very prime,” said Ted Hastings.
Joy and Hemp makes a variety of products, including CBD body butter, chapstick, tincture, smokable flower, and white chocolates. They can be found at the Tobacco and Vape stores in Morgantown or ordered through their website.
But the farm is scheduled to be turned into concrete as the DOH makes plans to turn the land into a roundabout. Ted said he believes the farm is facing discrimination because of its size and the fact that they grow hemp. Hemp is not a plant that farmers will typically grow on acres and acres of land because it requires more attention and it’s more difficult to harvest.
“We’re not considered a legitimate farm by the [Monongalia] County Commission. I’ve heard them say that we’re not legitimate. It’s really sad because we have a community garden. We have our own CBD business that is registered with the state. We have multiple farmers that participate in growing on the land, and there’s just no recognition,” said Ted.
“Here in Mon County, it’s very business related, and business and agriculture apparently don’t mix. We’re in an Urban Development Zone, so the fact that we’re in an Urban Development Zone says that basically we’re not a gas station,” Ted continued, “If there was a gas station there, there’d be no roundabout going in, but a CBD farm that wants to produce something for an alternative possibly to opiates or something like that…”
WBOY reached out to the Department of Highways, who is responsible for the roundabout project. They released the following statement: “The environmental process has been thoroughly vetted, analyzed, explored and approved to ensure that all parties involved are treated fairly.”
The DOH also stated that construction will begin after the design is completed and right of way is acquired. “The roundabouts and intersection improvements were studied, analyzed, and evaluated. The roundabout was the alternative with fewer impacts to the area, which met the purpose of improving traffic flow and reducing delays better than a signalized intersection alternative,” they write.
Plant of a thousand uses
Hemp can be used for more than just CBD oil. The plant is also famous for its strong fibers, which can be used to make clothes, paper, and even construction materials like concrete and car parts. The seeds are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be used to make cereals, cooking oil, and body lotion. Oils from the seeds are also a good additive to fuel to keep it from freezing at low temperatures.