THC Testing for Hemp is Broken, Here’s How to Fix it

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill officially ended the prohibition of the hemp plant, removing it completely from the Controlled Substances Act, and opening endless doors of opportunity for American farmers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs savvy enough to understand the value of this multiuse crop. Industry insiders now predict that industrial hemp production in the U.S. alone will top $2.6 billion by the end of the year 2021. Of that total revenue, at least half is predicted to come from the sale of hemp-derived CBD products.

It is now up to each individual state to determine how far and how fast they want to move on allowing commercial hemp production, but the Feds now just have one rule:

All hemp plants must have no more than 0.3% THC content

Anything above that and the hemp magically transforms back into cannabis, a Schedule I narcotic on the Controlled Substances Act that the federal government claims has zero medicinal value.

Although an exclusive group of farmers has been growing industrial hemp dating back at least to the 2104 Farm Bill, 2019 marks the first year of 50-state-legal hemp production in the U.S. but, unfortunately, it looks like there are going to be a lot more bushes best used for hemp handbags than there will be CBD-bearing trees.

A report late last month from Bloomberg News included an estimate that billions of dollars of American hemp will “rot on farms” this year due to any number of reasons from neglect to inexperience to a lack of the facilities or machinery needed to properly harvest a crop of hemp, especially at scale. Bugs, mold, and other environmental impurities can accumulate quickly in an untended hemp forest but with little or no oversight or testing mandates in place, all of that trash too often gets blasted into oil and filled into gross gas station vape carts. Bird shit terps.

There is one test, however, that all industrial hemp crops must take… a life or death test when it comes down to it… a potency test.


The 2018 Farm Bill was passed through the do-nothing U.S. Senate with a signature from the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who scribbled his name using a pen made from hemp. The deeply conservative senior senator from Kentucky has been a loud cheerleader for legal hemp, and an outspoken critic of the same exact plant, cannabis, calling it the “cousin I will not embrace”.  Ew.  Back in the Bluegrass State, struggling farmers want to plant green “grass” and Sen. McConnell, facing re-election in 2020, is hoping the hemp seeds that he has been planting in D.C. will bear a bountiful harvest of voter support back home come November of next year.

But in order to erase “hemp” from the Controlled Substances Act without freeing cannabis in general, a rule was needed. Nature hadn’t provided clearly defined lines and science… well… science isn’t usually a politician’s first choice, so instead the 0.3% THC rule was brainfarted into our nation’s laws after a copy/paste job from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime policy book and it has stunk ever since.

Now thousands of acres of hemp ready to harvest in states around the country are coming in hot as far as THC testing is concerned and anything testing higher than .3% THC is being condemned for total destruction leaving countless farmers with nothing to show after a grueling season of growing.

The cannabis plant is an incredible giver, so even hemp ordered for destruction can be upcycled into something useful – like hempcrete, for example – though, the return on investment is far lower on that than on CBD flowers and extracts. As long as it is not moved off of the farm or entered into the commercial market, or rolled up in small sheets of paper, incinerated, and inhaled, it can be “disposed” of in some creative ways.


The cannabis plant contains many cannabinoids besides just the delta9-THC that federal law now singles out. These cannabinoids have varying effects when examined individually, but it is the “entourage effect” gained when consuming them in harmony that cannabis users seek and benefit the most from. There are thousands and thousands of varieties of the cannabis plant – that’s the real beauty of it! – and each variety expresses a different blend of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds. A government mandate to breed plants for alleged “medicinal use” by vilifying their naturally occurring THC is disingenuous but it is exactly what we are seeing in marketing campaigns from some unscrupulous CBD salesmen.

Reefer Madness is alive and well… with some hemp salesmen

What we are witnessing are the first firefights leading to the larger war of CBD vs. THC that is almost certain to befall us in the next couple of years as real cannabis reform continues its march to the nation’s capital. Whether it is a battle over cross-pollination between hemp and cannabis farms or a skirmish over shelf space at a dispensary, the first shots fired almost every time are about how cannabis gets you “high” but that CBD is “non-psychoactive”.

Next time anyone tells you that, ask them if they have ever looked up the word psychoactive because the definition is really easy to remember:

psychoactive – /sīkōˈaktiv/ – adj. – affecting the mind

Now, is a dose of CBD going to give you hallucinations or hold you in a grip of paranoia? Probably not, but to say that it does not “affect the mind” is pretty ludicrous. Anyone who has used CBD to treat anxiety or PTSD can tell you that. Others use the term “non-intoxicating” to describe CBD but while that is technically accurate, it is demeaning to THC to use a comparative term traditionally reserved for alcohol or hard drugs, but perhaps that is the intention.


There are a number of reasons why a hemp crop may exceed the ridiculously low bar of 0.3% THC. Anything from the soil, to the water, to the air surrounding the plant can play a role in its cannabinoid production. The genetics of the plant in the ground are the biggest determining factor, however, and a strain that tests low in THC in Colorado could explode out of compliance in California. With quality hemp seeds selling for about a buck apiece, pheno hunting legal hemp is way cheaper than pheno hunting top-shelf cannabis, but it takes time and too many hemp farms rushed into the season on a hope and a prayer for favorable test results come harvest.

There is a simple solution that costs the government nothing and harms absolutely nobody. Just raise the allowable limit of THC to, let’s say, 5.0%. Let’s face it, in an ideal world this arbitrary dividing line between cannabis and cannabis-lite wouldn’t even exist, but if we have to have a separation let’s be realistic about it at least.

A full five percent would give breeders and farmers much more wiggle room for compliance and could potentially even allow for a small variety in products for consumers. For most people, the difference between ingesting something with 2% THC versus 5% THC will be unnoticeable to them, but their body will be taking in 2.5x the THC, a known healing cannabinoid.

To that point, as a seasoned cannabis smoker for two decades, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference in effect between a bowl full of 20% weed or a bowl full of 25% weed. That’s just not how it works, so why are we dealing in decimals?

Don’t want a full 5% THC product? The free market will provide options.

Afraid your granny/kid/cat will accidentally ingest a high-CBD product with 5% THC in it? All three of them will be fine, but keep your stash locked up better. There is a reason why you will not find ANY strains of cannabis under 10% THC in ANY Cali dispensary – they will smoke like “hemp”.

THC has been proven to have a growing range of medicinal benefits, and in many cases, the healing properties of CBD are enhanced when coupled with at least some balance of THC. All of this can be achieved by anyone from sick kids to curious seniors without the threat of getting them “high” or having them run off to join a jam band.

Post by Jack Riordan

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