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Expert: Mississippi's wet climate could be tough for hemp

Posted at 1:29 PM, Jul 09, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An expert says growing hemp could be risky in Mississippi because of the wet climate and because there's no federally approved pesticide for the plant.

The director of the state Bureau of Plant Industry, Michael Ledlow, spoke Monday during the first meeting of a Hemp Cultivation Task Force at the state Capitol in Jackson, the Clarion Ledger reported.

The U.S. Congress last year approved allowing production of non-intoxicating hemp in heavily regulated programs. The 13-member state task force will make recommendations that Mississippi lawmakers could consider in 2020.

Chris McDonald is federal affairs director at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture. He said Monday that before the state can allow hemp farming, it must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal law enforcement agencies, saying how it would regulate the plant, its farmers and processors. The state would be required to do annual inspections of fields and test for THC, he said.

"To do this you're talking about extra manpower, extra budget," McDonald said.

Hemp belongs to the same species as marijuana, but holds trace amounts of the psychoactive compound, THC, that creates a high when marijuana is smoked or consumed. Advocates say growing hemp could be an economic windfall for farmers, especially with the increasing sales of products with cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which is extracted from hemp.

"There is a difference between hemp and marijuana," Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson said at the meeting.

The state public safety commissioner, Marshall Fisher, said law enforcement officers have concerns about hemp.

"You can't tell the difference between hemp and a marijuana plant," Fisher said, which could potentially allow someone to grow marijuana under the guise of cultivating hemp.

John Dowdy, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said officers are also concerned about the proliferation of CBD oil that includes higher levels of THC than advertised.

"No one knows what's contained in it, because there are no quality controls for these products, currently," Dowdy said.