Farmers Count Losses as Thieves Mistake Industrial Hemp for Marijuana

Since the legalization of hemp in 2018 under the Department of Agriculture Farm Bill, many farmers started cultivating hemp in 2019, and apart from the usual challenges of growing hemp such as mold and harsh weather conditions, hemp farmers had to face theft of their crop as thieves mistook hemp for marijuana.

Demarkus Medley owns a small boutique-style farm in Galesburg, Illinois, and grows leafy greens and lettuce using aquaponics. Aquaponics is a system where fish provide nutrients required for growing crops. However, in 2019, he decided to cultivate hemp, but as the harvesting neared, he noticed that some of the hemp plants were disappearing. At first, he thought it was a deer, because they were plucking the top part of the plant, Medley said.

As more and more of the hemp plants disappeared, Medley decided to install a camera, and the footage showed people sneaking onto the farm at night and stealing the plants. The best guess is that the thieves thought they were taking marijuana, which is similar to hemp in appearance since they are cousins, said Medley.

He further noted that the thieves probably thought that they could get high or sell the plants to make money.

To salvage his crop, Medley called for an emergency harvest where he and a team of volunteers harvested the farm in 24 hours, and yet generally, it would have taken a couple of days.

The police report shows that his farm lost hemp worth about $25,000.

Similar cases of hemp theft have been reported across the United States from Indiana to New York to Washington. For example, last year in Colorado, hemp worth about $2 million was stolen from a single farmer.

Although the state of Illinois did not track the amount of hemp that was stolen within the state this year, the department’s bureau chief of medicinal plants Jeff Cox said that they received many calls on hemp theft.

Cox further said that it is unfortunate because most of those stealing are mistaking hemp for marijuana, which is not the case.

Cox said that he is working on a few strategies to deal with hemp burglary and including signage to inform the public that it is hemp and not weed.

Cox also says that the Department of Agriculture in Illinois is working to include the local law enforcement in dealing with the burglaries.

Demarkius Medley’s case is being handled by the police, according to Galesburg Chief of Police Russ Idle. However, after investigating a few suspects, the police have not yet found any concrete evidence.

Idle further said that there is a possibility that the suspects disposed of the plants after they discovered that it is not a drug. He also noted that Medley’s case is the first for the Galesburg Police Department.

Idle reveals that they have increased patrols on the different hemp farms to curb theft. However, he also noted that the potential of theft or damage of hemp crop is higher than for any other plant.

The patrolling of the hemp farms by law enforcement will help farmers protect their crops, Medley said.

Medley still plans on cultivating hemp this year, but he will increase security by installing motion sensor lights, fences, and cameras. And to top it, he has two Rottweilers for protection.

Industry watchers believe that these cases of theft must also be raising a lot of concerns among established hemp entities like Lexaria Bioscience Corp. (CSE: LXX) (OTCQX: LXRP).

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