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Oregon Hemp Farms To Be Inspected For Illicit Marijuana

Evelyn Simak
CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13063303

Illegal marijuana grows in Southern Oregon are the focus of a new law signed by the governor this week.

House Bill 3000 allows the state to regulate a number of cannabinoid products as well as hemp farms that might be growing marijuana illegally. Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on Monday.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Executive Director Steve Marks says law enforcement groups and others have long said that hemp farms were actually growing marijuana illegally, but before this law, the state didn’t have the means to gather numerical data through inspections.

“I've been hearing for years, ‘It's all marijuana,’” Marks says. “So hopefully these test results will actually answer that question.”

Oregon allows farmers to grow marijuana or hemp if they have the right permits, but they aren’t allowed to ship marijuana across state borders. The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal for people to ship hemp. Marks says some growers are illegally growing marijuana among their hemp plants, then shipping it to states where marijuana isn’t legal.

“We haven't seen anything like this,” Marks says. “We're kind of the epicenter nationally. We're sort of ground zero for an international investment in hemp growing suddenly.”

State inspectors have begun their inspections this week, starting with the cluster of farms in Jackson and Josephine counties. They’ll test the plants’ flower buds to see if they have THC levels exceeding 0.5 percent.

THC is the compound in marijuana that gets users high. Hemp plants naturally contain a small amount of THC. The 2018 Farm Bill says any part of the plant can’t have a THC concentration of more than 0.3 percent by dry weight.

Oregon’s HB 3000 also requires that all CBD products being sold in the state be tested for THC. Marks says CBD products that have been sold at grocery stores and gas stations haven’t had much regulation or testing.

“What we're finding is they were loaded with THC, and you could actually amass more THC from a store than you would legally be able to purchase from an OLCC marijuana store,” Marks says.

The new state law requires these products to have 0.3 percent or less of THC, specifically of the delta-9 strain.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.