There is no doubt that the Covid-19 quarantine has sparked a renewed interest in planting and gardening across the country. Some may even be daydreaming of expanding their outdoor (and out of the house!) horizons by looking for a new cash crop in the form of cannabis farming. But before you do, there are some things that you should be attuned to, starting with the basics.
First, hemp and marijuana are not the same. Rather, they are two forms of the cannabis plant and are used very differently. Hemp can be used in a variety of ways that marijuana cannot, including health dietary supplements, skin products, clothing, rope, textiles, or cannabidiol (CBD) content, among many, many others. To the contrary, psychoactive cannabis, or “marijuana,” as it is widely known, is used for medicinal or recreational purposes. Though many states are slowly legalizing the use of marijuana in some form, it remains federally illegal. Hemp, on the other hand, is federally legal to sell in all fifty states, pursuant to an amendment to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill).
Hemp and marijuana can be further differentiated by looking at their chemical makeup, method of growing, natural adaptability and, sometimes, appearance. The main difference between the two is in their chemical composition, specifically as to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects. An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-20% THC content. Some premium marijuana can have up to 25-30% THC. Legal hemp, on the other hand, has a maximum THC level of 0.3%, essentially making it impossible to feel any psychoactive effect or get a “high.” While legal hemp has low to zero concentrations of THC, it does contain significant concentrations of CBD which offers numerous unique benefits, such as CBD oils used for inflammation and anxiety.
Generally, from a farmer’s point of view, the hemp commodity can generate income but it is not without risk. One of the challenges of hemp farming is in accessing its valuable internal fibers, which are protected by a hard outer layer. This layer is broken down by cutting down the plants and letting them lie in the field for a period of time so that natural elements cause decomposition, providing access to the internal fibers. Another challenge facing a hemp farmer is figuring out which of the many different strains of hemp is best suited for his or her farm’s particular environment. Here in Louisiana, its long growing season is an asset, but the humidity, especially in Southern Louisiana, could cause problems for drying the harvested plants. Another issue facing Louisiana farmers is that hemp generally prefers sandy soil and does not work well in clay soils. Thus, some Louisiana farmers are exploring the possibility of growing hemp on a smaller scale in a greenhouse. Currently in Louisiana, rural property owners can benefit from the State’s developing industry by obtaining a license to grow industrial hemp. However, this is strictly regulated, and if a hemp crop has THC levels above 0.3 percent,  the State Department of Agriculture will destroy the crop entirely.
Though the State has not yet developed recommendations for growing the commodity, a Hemp Working Group in Louisiana has been formed with Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Agricultural Center’s (AgCenter) experts for pest control, agronomics, economics and hemp variety evaluation. The LSU AgCenter has developed a hemp website for preliminary information pertaining to Louisiana hemp farming, which can be found at: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/topics/crops/industrial-hemp.
Louisiana, with its rich agricultural history, could be in a position to do very well. But, there is still much to be learned. . .
 Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the use and possession of cannabis for any purpose is illegal.