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State officials to begin testing hemp in southern Oregon for illegal marijuana

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State officials to begin testing hemp in southern Oregon for illegal marijuana

PORTLAND, Ore. — State regulators will start inspecting registered hemp grow sites in southern Oregon to evaluate whether they contain plants with elevated levels of THC, the active chemical in cannabis products.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission executive director Steve Marks indicated on Monday that a number of producers have started cultivating marijuana plants under the guise of growing hemp, which he linked to a "cartel takeover" in the industry.

With local law enforcement struggling to enforce state law in this environment of ambiguity, House Bill 3000 was signed into law this week in an effort to crack down on these issues. The OLCC passed temporary rules to accompany the legislation that establishes a limit on the level of THC that can be contained in a hemp-derived product, in addition to creating methods for testing hemp in the field.

According to the OLCC, state regulators will begin inspecting registered hemp grow sites in southern Oregon this week using THC field-testing units. State staff plan to brief local elected officials on those inspection plans later this week, as the inspectors start spreading out across Jackson and Josephine counties.

“Our objective through the remainder of the summer and into the fall is to make sure that every field gets these tests done,” said Marks.

Marks said that legitimate hemp farmers should not have anything to worry about.

“We’re really not trying to define what hemp is here: we’re really trying to spot check and take a minimum amount of samples to figure out what is commercial marijuana,” said Marks. “This will enable [the Department of Agriculture] or law enforcement to stop the illegal production of marijuana disguised as hemp production.”

Part of HB 3000 was a prohibition on the sales of "adult-use cannabis items" to minors, targeting a form of THC called Delta-8-THC. The OLCC said that this chemical can be produced from hemp and used to make products with higher potency levels than cannabis.

"However, Delta-8-THC was being sold outside Oregon’s regulated market and could be found at neighborhood convenience stores, where children could buy it," the agency said in a statement.

State agencies plan to set new potency and concentration limits for chemicals found in hemp products by January of 2022. The new legislation requires the establishment of tracking requirements for cannabinoid hemp products intended for human consumption, similar to those used in the recreational cannabis market.

"HB 3000 gives OLCC and ODA tools to target illicit production of hemp," the OLCC said. "Specifically around cannabis being illegally produced because it is unregistered or under the guise that it’s hemp. OLCC inspectors will support ODA’s staff, with law enforcement providing necessary protection and safety assessments to the joint inspection teams. Together the agencies will inspect hemp grow sites to test the crop’s THC levels to determine compliance with Oregon’s Hemp Program and, if necessary, take enforcement action, which could include crop destruction."