Since the legalization of hemp farming in Texas last year, politicians and law enforcement officials have struggled with a straightforward problem: how to tell if someone is lighting up a joint with THC (the illegal psychoactive agent in marijuana) or CBD (the legal medicinal agent found in hemp).
HB 1325, the 2019 state bill that legalized hemp farming in Texas, allowed for the sale of smokable hemp products but did not allow for the manufacture of pre-rolled hemp and other smokable hemp products in Texas. To untrained eyes, hemp and marijuana buds basically look and smell the same. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is preparing to rule on a proposed ban on smokable hemp, and hemp supporters are sounding the alarm.
The health benefits of CBD are well documented. Many children and adults use the non-psychoactive drug to control seizures or to manage chronic pain, among many other uses.
Tim Blackwell said the proposal will effectively strangle Texas’ new hemp market. The owner of Fort Worth-based Zen Alchemy Labs, which specializes in CBD products, said smokable hemp has many advantages for people who struggle with chronic pain and anxiety.
When smoked, CBD “is absorbed into your lungs and directly into your bloodstream,” he said. “Ingested CBD products are damaged by stomach acids and filtered by the liver.”
Blackwell said 50% of his customers buy hemp flowers, largely for smoking purposes.
“Hemp is still very new in Texas,” Blackwell said, and lawmakers “are stifling it before it has a chance to get off the ground.”
Last March, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) began accepting applications for hemp-growing licenses and permits. That step allowed Texas to join 46 states and a global $4.7 billion industry. According to data provided by the TDA, as of late May, 19 hemp licenses have been granted to businesses located within Tarrant County. There are three outstanding applications in the county. The 22 licenses and applications include 15 hemp producers located in Fort Worth. Several Fort Worth hemp growers have facilities in nearby cities like Azle, Grand Prairie, and Waxahachie.
Texas Hemp Growers recently launched an online petition that calls for “DSHS to back off Texas businesses and leave hemp alone.” The hemp advocacy group is also preparing a lawsuit to challenge the proposed ban. Zachary Maxwell, Texas Hemp Growers’ president, said that any ban on specific forms of hemp products violates state and federal law, specifically the federal 2018 farm bill that legalizes the regulated production of hemp.
“The proposed rule would be the equivalent of permitting a rancher to raise cattle for sale while prohibiting them from selling steak or permitting a farmer to grow corn while prohibiting sale of corn on the cob,” Maxwell said. “The flower of the hemp plant is the most lucrative part of the plant for both Texas farmers and retailers and could provide much needed revenue to the state of Texas. The most predominant usage of hemp flower by consumers is for smoking, and DSHS’ proposed retail ban forces Texas farmers to send their business out of state by seeking out-of-state buyers for their crop, rather than being able to sell their flower crop in state.”
Cleveland, Texas-based Happy Hippy Haus Dispensary may be hit hard by the proposed hemp restrictions. Dispensary owner Sam Martin said in a public statement that “with an overwhelming support for smokable hemp by many Texans, we have to come together to help our farmers, manufacturers, processors, and retailers. Let’s make this ban go up in smoke.”
Blackwell said that an attack on any part of the hemp industry is an attack on everyone who is involved in the growing, processing, and selling of hemp products.
Hemp farmers “are frustrated,” he said. “If a good part of their market is cut off, the value of their product goes down. It’s not really doing anything except stifling Texas farmers from a large market.”
DSHS, which is taking public comments on the proposals through Monday, June 8, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.