Illinois hemp growers have until Halloween before the state will begin requiring hemp biomass to be tested for total THC. If harvests test above 0.3% for the psychoactive cannabinoid after Oct. 31, the crop will be legally categorized as cannabis — a federally controlled substance that must be burned when not grown by a permitted farm.
Total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) includes delta-9 and the inactive form of THC that’s activated by heat, THCA. Until the end of October, Illinois only requires biomass tests to fall under 0.3% delta-9 THC.
Still, to ship biomass outside state lines at any time, growers must comply with USDA regulations that require delta-9 and THCA to be added together for total THC.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has delayed adoption of these regulations to give its nascent hemp industry more time to develop. 2019 was Illinois’ first year commercially growing the crop since World War II.
“By doing this, Illinois said, ‘We don't want to be the bad guys these first couple years. We want you guys to have plenty of leeway to grow this and make it work.’ But that goes away after Oct. 31,” says Tim Horras, director of cultivation for Hemp Foundry, an extracting company based in Monee, Ill.
Enter cannabigerol, or CBG: the cannabinoid made in hemp plants before being turned into THC and over a dozen other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, or CBD. Hemp varieties bred for CBG production don’t run the risk of testing over 0.3% THC — whether delta-9, THCA or both.
Horras says his company works with growers to toll-process their harvests into crude oil and then sell it wholesale. Hemp Foundry also sells CBG-specialized varieties to growers. It works with partner company Soulful Botanicals, also in Monee, to create custom-branded hemp products that growers can then sell on their own as well. M.R. Hemp, a hemp farm and product retailer in Eldorado, Ill., works with the companies.
Starting this year, Soulful Botanicals will be selling smokable flower from its grower-partners with pre-roll hemp cigarettes, or “hemperettes.”
“We’ve got some really nice CBD varieties that we’re going to use for our pre-rolls, but a lot of those are dancing with 0.3% THC,” Horras says, noting as growers wait for CBD-specialized varieties to produce the cannabinoid, THC is also produced.
“What we’re going to do is blend equal amounts of CBG and CBD together to create a really nice profile for the hemperettes,” he says. “It will also make sure that our THC percentage is well within bounds of that 0.3% cap, where we can ship to other states.”
M.R. Hemp grew Hemp Foundry’s highest-yielding CBD harvest in 2019.
“We’re testing out CBG to see if we can get a good harvest from it and cover our costs. Smokable flower is a hot market,” says Shawn Rider of M.R. Hemp.
Rider wants to duplicate his 2019 success this year. But for the next growing season, Illinois will have new testing requirements. Illinois CBD growers will have to harvest prematurely in 2021.
M.R. Hemp was able to create 1 liter of crude oil out of 18 pounds of hemp in 2019 by waiting for the optimal time to harvest, when the trichomes of the hemp plant turned cloudy and then amber. This helped result in a yield that was much better than the industry standard of 30 pounds for 1 liter of crude oil, but also resulted in a total THC level well above 0.3%.
Regulations will keep M.R. Hemp from matching that success in 2021, though they’re trying to take advantage of the Halloween cutoff in the meantime, so they can convert their harvest into shelf-stable crude oil. While this crude oil has a concentrated THC level above 0.3%, the consumer products that it’s made into at Soulful Botanicals test below the federally mandated cap on total THC.