Special Report: Hemp In Nebraska

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Some local Nebraskans are pushing for legalizing the growing and selling of hemp. We talked with researchers from all over the state of Nebraska and a hemp grower out of Colorado.

It begins with a plant that has a sketchy reputation. It grows wild and abundant in our rich Nebraska soil and people have been arrested just for picking this form of cannabis off the side of the road.

President of 7GenX Shane Davis joined the hemp business just over two years ago. 7GenX is a genetics research and development company in Colorado.

“This was the one thing that I knew, this miracle plant, that could do so many things if it was liberated. And it was just very easy for me to know that once it became legal, this is what it was going to do,” Davis said.

As the current law stands, there can be no purchase or sale of any form of cannabis in the state of Nebraska. Many think why ban a cannabis that, according to Steve Rothenberger, does not make you high?

“I think the drug scene in the 60’s caused a lot of panic and everybody, you know movies like reefer madness, those kinds of things came out about how people went insane after they smoked the stuff, but anyway all those led to legislation that was very unfortunate, just pretty much put a ban or a kibosh on the whole thing,” said UNK Biology Professor Steve Rothenberger.

Rothenberger said THC is the compound in cannabis that makes people high. He said hemp contains .3 percent of THC at most. Rothenberger said marijuana, on the other hand, contains 30 times that much THC or more, which is where advocates said the misconception comes in.

“Traditionally a lot of the substances that are quote unquote herbal are usually subject to a lot of myth, if you know what I mean,” said Public Health Professional Aravind Menon.

Even with the difference in THC, hemp is still classified in the United States as a class one drug, along with LSD and Heroin.

Menon said the Indian culture does not confuse the hemp plant for its cousin, marijuana.

“It was very, very common for people in northwestern India, in the state of Rajasthan to feed their cows hemp and hemp seed cake. It was essentially, it was seen as a very reliable and quote unquote organic method of increasing milk volume,” Menon said.

How close in relation are marijuana and hemp plants?

“It’s kind of ironic because if you were technically anti–marijuana, then you’d be pro hemp,” Menon said.

Menon explained that hemp and marijuana are different enough that if a hemp plant is near a marijuana plant and fertilizes it, the marijuana plant would lose much of its THC.

“It’s almost as if the psychoactive marijuana crops, when they fail, quote unquote, when they are accidentally fertilized by a male plant that was in the region, then they all become useless quote unquote because they have less than .3 of the psychoactive THC,” Menon said.

Professor of Economics at UNK Allen Jenkins has advocated the use of hemp for quite some time now. Jenkins published a book that he said changed the way the state of Wyoming viewed the plant.

“Would you rather make a dollar an acre or $50,000 an acre? Any place that corn will grow, hemp will prosper,” Jenkins said.

However, some disagree. According to an article on ModernFarmer.com, hemp has to be harvested by hand to protect the stalks, and in doing so, becomes more costly. Since hemp is also an annual crop, it must be stored for processing, which bumps the price up more. However, Jenkins believes Nebraskans need to make moves.

“If people understood the difference, then there’d be, there is absolutely no reason that Nebraskans should not be able to benefit from growing and the development of hemp,” Jenkins said.

Understanding the hemp plant is what these advocates find most important.

“If I had to make a bumper sticker for life, it would be that economics is the driver and education is the key,” Jenkins said.

Nebraska’s law on hemp only allows colleges or the Nebraska Department of Ag to grow hemp strictly for research. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, over 27 states now share similar laws. Many of these states have their own research goals. In 2017 for example, Colorado decided to create a group to research using hemp in animal feed.