After decades of prohibition, hemp is at long last legal again in the United States. But problems persist with how law enforcement officials treat the substance. In the last two months, two hemp companies have had shipments seized by law enforcement officials in Oklahoma and Idaho, respectively, with their drivers charged for trafficking cannabis.
One reason why law enforcement officials continue to confuse or refuse to treat hemp like a separate substance from cannabis is that hemp contains trace amounts of THC. That may actually be changing: Late in January, Kentucky-based GenCanna Global announced that it had developed a strain of hemp that was free of THC.
To better understand what the breakthrough might mean for the hemp industry, the Hemp Business Journal interviewed GenCanna president, Steve Bevan.
The strain, called OC-00, was developed for GenCanna by a team of molecular geneticists at the University of Kentucky. Applying their knowledge of agricultural genetics, the scientists were able to selectively breed existing hemp cultivars until a new hemp strain that contained no THC emerged.
According to Bevan, the reason why GenCanna decided to develop a THC-free strain of hemp was two-fold; the first had to do with public perception.
“There’s only one concern that people have with hemp, and that is THC level,” said Bevan. “Even though 0.3 is a low number, it’s not zero. People that are new to hemp and hemp products want to know ‘what is this THC stuff, and how can you minimize it?’”
Bevan explained that by developing a THC-free hemp strain, the company can help alleviate people’s fears about hemp as well as provide better assurances to cultivators that they won’t find themselves in legal jeopardy for growing it.
GenCanna’s second motivation has everything to do with cannabinoids: In both hemp and cannabis, there are a number of minor cannabinoids which appear in miniscule concentrations (such as CBN or CBG). Though the minor cannabinoids may prove to be beneficial, it is difficult to extract them in any significant concentration, Bevan said.
“When you look to gather a bunch of these minor cannabinoids, it’s really difficult. You need a lot of biomass in order to pull out a little amount of that minor cannabinoid.”
Using OC-00, GenCanna hopes to breed new strains of hemp that have higher concentrations of minor cannabinoids. These theoretical new strains could help researchers better understand the effects and benefits of minor cannabinoids, which in turn could result in new product applications.
In the meantime, Bevan says that the company is focusing on moving OC-00 into commercial production, and hopes to have the first crop harvested later this year.