Industrial Hemp Thefts: Is There a Black Market for CBD?

The legalization of industrial hemp has led to a rise in hemp farms across the United States. It has also, however, led to a growing number of thefts from such farms. This has been puzzling farmers and police ever since because of the extremely low levels of THC contained in the plants, they do not have the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis.While marijuana and hemp are the same species and look similar, the varieties are bred for different purposes.

Industrial hemp has many uses. The seeds can be pressed for oil or just eaten; the stalks can be made into textiles or rope; it even has some potential as a biofuel. Perhaps the most lucrative use is in producing cannabidiol, or CBD, a newly trendy extract from industrial hemp.

So why are people stealing hemp? The prevailing theory is that the thieves are mistaking hemp for marijuana, and smoking it themselves or selling it on the black market to people who want to get high. Yet a Pennsylvania farmer reports that putting up signs that say “Industrial Hemp - NO THC” has not had any effect on deterring thefts. Coupled with the fact that these thefts have become so prevalent, one has to wonder if so many people really are that ignorant, or if there’s something else going on.

It’s easy to fall into the marijuana-prohibition era narrative that “dumb druggies will steal anything if they think it will get them high.” One Kentucky police department went so far as to post on their social media page that they will “make fun of” any hemp thieves they catch. Certainly, thieves mistaking hemp for marijuana can account for some of the thefts. But what if some of the others were by people who knew exactly what they were stealing?

There are a couple of theories as to why thieves would steal hemp plants, knowing full well that they don’t contain THC. One is that they are mixing it with marijuana to sell on the black market, to make their own crop go farther. Another is that they are after the CBD. As anyone who has been in a legal dispensary can attest, CBD tinctures, CBD baked goods, and other CBD products have a higher price point than those that contain THC alone.

Police have ruled out the latter possibly due to the fact that the extraction of CBD requires expensive and specialized equipment. CO2 extraction is a commonly used method, and these kinds of machines can cost upwards of $100,000 dollars. However, extraction with alcohol, butane, or olive oil can be done much more cheaply, with equipment that is easy to find online.

People could be making CBD cookies or a CBD tincture 1000mg concoction and then selling it illegally. The resulting oils will be less pure and have a lower quality than those extracted by CO2, but if someone is buying CBD on the black market, how concerned can they be with quality? Is it possible that the hemp thieves are extracting the CBD themselves, or selling the hemp to someone who is? Could it be that there is indeed a black market for CBD that law enforcement is unaware of? Many questions still stand unanswered.


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