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September 24, 2017

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Nevada to open up retail for industrial hemp as production expands

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Yvonne Gonzalez

A cherry wine strain industrial hemp plant grows inside a Pahrump nursery while Nevada Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp program manager Russell Wilhelm, industrial hemp producer Duff Taylor and alfalfa and hemp farmer John Roundy, who owns the land, chat in the background on Thursday, July 6, 2017. A new law is opening up retail sales for products made using these types of Nevada-grown plants, which contain almost no THC.

PAHRUMP — Baby hemp plants are sending off their distinct skunky smell at a farm in Pahrump, but these weeds won’t wind up in a joint.

The farm is one of the state’s cultivators of hemp crops that have almost no THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. A new law means plants like these can be grown in Nevada and used for retail products.

Nevada Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Program Manager Russell Wilhelm says the state is setting up the new industrial hemp regulations and fielding increased interest from prospective producers.

Wilhelm says production of the crop is expected to double in Nevada this year and is projected to keep growing with the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 396, which allows for industrial hemp farming, testing and selling.

“With the passing of SB396, we actually have the opportunity to now start producing industrial hemp seed in the state of Nevada, one, and then two, the other significant opportunity after that is going to be the ability to sell industrial hemp-based products in retail venues in the state,” he said.

The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill Section 7606 and the 2015 Legislature’s Senate Bill 305 limit industrial hemp production in Nevada to research programs certified by the Nevada Department of Agriculture. The department can order producers to pay for the destruction of hemp if their crops’ THC concentrations exceed 0.3 percent.

Hemp can be used to produce grain, fiber, medicine, vitamins and other products. The first hemp cultivation season was last year, Wilhelm said.

“Last year in production acreage we saw about 250 acres,” he said. “This season we’re projecting that that number will double.”

Much of last year’s yield went unused, however.

“A lot of the crops that were harvested went stagnant, and that’s due to the fact that there was no retail opportunity for the growers to take advantage of,” he said. “SB396 will, in effect, solve that problem.”

Wilhelm says new state regulations under SB396 may take three months, more or less, to be finalized. Harvested plants cannot be used for retail sale until rules are in place.

The weeks-old cannabis sativa, cherry wine strain plants in Pahrump are in the stage of growth where they do not have buds and will need to go into the ground in about a week or two, hemp producer Duff Taylor said Thursday. He said these plants were chosen because they are high in cannabidiol, which has therapeutic applications.

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Cherry wine strain industrial hemp grows in a nursery on a farm in Pahrump on Thursday, July 6, 2017. A new law is opening up retail sales for products made using these types of Nevada-grown plants, which contain almost no THC.

Although much of the state’s industrial hemp crops went unused without a retail market, Taylor said the industrial hemp plants he and Roundy grow are processed for their medical uses, so they had more options for their yield.

He said the plants are essentially the same as those that end up in dispensaries, with the main exception being that industrial hemp plants have very little THC.

“You can chew on it, smoke it, do whatever you want and you’re not going to get high,” Taylor says.

Wilhelm says only female plants will be planted to avoid any pollination. Taylor said the plants will develop buds, which have the heaviest medicinal value, and those buds will continue to grow bigger if they remain unpollinated.

Taylor said the plants were being kept shaded to protect them from the intense heat before they’re planted. Wilhelm said the state’s pilot program is intended to help test for whether hemp can be grown successfully in the state’s diverse climate.

Landowner and alfalfa farmer John Roundy has been contracted by Taylor, the applicant permittee who brought the seeds into the state, to raise hemp plants under the state’s program. Taylor has a partner at a development company in Las Vegas who has the rights to the land and the water there.

Roundy has spent his life farming, moving to Pahrump in 2011. He says his regular crop is alfalfa, which is a perennial, whereas hemp has to be replanted every year.

“It’s a different crop,” he said, but it’s still a plant with all the basic needs that come along with growing.

“You can express the oil out of the hemp seeds themselves and it’s very nutritional,” Roundy said. “People are using it for nutritional supplements.”

Taylor says that now that retail is coming online, Nevada needs to beef up its industrial-level processing. The 4- to 5-acre parcel grown on Roundy’s land last year produced about 4,000 pounds of harvest and had to be sent out of state for processing, Taylor said.

This year, Taylor’s pending application with the state is for 60 acres.

Wilhelm said Nevada’s industrial hemp industry is still in its embryonic stage, but that he hopes it can grow to the level seen in Colorado, where 9,000 acres were planted last year.

“Industrial hemp is kind of a novelty product, so a lot of individuals are looking for industrial hemp as a material in, say, cosmetics or consumables,” Wilhelm said. “I believe that it definitely has a pretty large role to play in Nevada’s retail economy.”

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