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The Risks and Rewards of Hemp Transportation

Dec 13, 2019

The Risks and Rewards of Hemp Transportation

Hemp is big business. Around 12,000 active hemp licenses are now held across the United States and this year’s cultivation figures are predicted to be more than double that seen in 2018.

State-level hemp cultivation pilot programs have been in existence for several years, but the federal legalisation of hemp and hemp-derived products in December 2018 has undoubtedly lifted the industry. But with so much hemp grown and sold around the country, the question arises: how is all this material being moved, when it was illegal to do so just last year?

Insights from transport specialist, Zach Wilcox

“We transport a whole bunch of things,” Zach Wilcox tells Analytical Cannabis. “We do a lot of aerial equipment, large machinery, heavy machinery, farming equipment, all the above. But really, we saw this opportunity in the hemp industry when the 2018 Farm Bill came out.”

Wilcox is a senior transport specialist at Fide Freight, a logistics and transport solutions firm that also specializes in providing services for the hemp industry. The company moved over 2 million pounds of hemp over the past year and knows the risks and complications of hemp transport firsthand. 

“We actually got stopped over in Oklahoma,” Wilcox explains. “We had a 53-foot refrigerated truck. [The driver] got stopped and he had a bunch of live plants in there – hemp clones. The cops pulled him over because of a taillight or something, and next thing you know they're saying, ‘Hey, this kind of smells.’ But he showed them the COAs (certificates of analysis), he showed them the paperwork, and they actually didn't even offer to go into his truck.”

The roadside stop was a close call. Despite the Farm Bill passing in December last year, truck drivers transporting hemp were still getting stopped and arrested into early 2019.

In January, Idaho State Police stopped and arrested an Oregonian truck driver on cannabis trafficking charges during a routine inspection. The driver, Mr Denis Palamarchuck, was on his way to Colorado to deliver a 6,700-pound shipment of hemp on behalf of Big Sky Scientific when he was stopped at a weigh station and his truck searched.  

The state troopers’ narcotic identification kit registered the presence of THC in the crop, and in keeping with Idaho state law, Palamarchuck was arrested. The hemp was later tested and showed a THC level of just 0.043 percent, far lower than the federal permit, 0.3 percent. But the equipment available to the state troopers didn’t make the distinction, and the arrest went ahead.

Fortunately, Fide Freight drivers carry certificates of analysis for the hemp they transport, the registrations for all of the parties involved in the shipping, and some information on the legality of hemp transport, so that in the event they are pulled over by law enforcement they are equipped with everything the attending officer might need. 

The challenges that come with hemp transport

The largest challenge for those involved with hemp transport, Wilcox explains, is finding drivers who are willing to transport the plant. While confrontations with local law enforcement remain a possibility, this might deter otherwise willing truck drivers.

“Another challenge would be just having the right insurance in place that will cover hemp. That's one of the biggest things that a lot of companies are going to have to figure out once they do open their doors to transportation. There’s a very small pond of insurance companies that will cover it,” he continues.

Interestingly, he notes, another challenge is finding a carrier who is willing to haul the crop.

“It’s mainly due to the smell,” he says, “not necessarily what it is. If you're throwing the whole plant in there, you're gonna smell. But if you package it right with mylar packaging, there shouldn't be any issues.”

What does the future hold?

Last month the US Department of Agriculture released its draft of the interim regulations for the American hemp industry. The public comment period on these regulations is open until December 30, with the final edition of the hemp rules expected to be released in 2020.

While the interim guidelines don’t explicitly address the issue of hemp exports, they do categorically rule that states cannot prohibit the interstate transport of hemp material. If this clause remains in the final guidance, this clarity will be central to the future of the hemp transport business.

“In the next five years, the federal government will make it much more clear as to the legalization of interstate [hemp] transport,” Wilcox says. “Once they do that, I think a lot more common carriers – the UPSs, the FedExs – will open their doors [to hemp transportation].”

“And as far as quantity, I don't see this going away anytime soon. This industry is huge, I definitely see huge growth,” he continues.

“I think there's going to be some specialized carriers that gear towards this industry. I think a lot of truckers and companies might try tailoring around this industry because it's so big. So you're going to see specialized trailers, you're going to be see specialized carriers, you're going to see specialized companies just hauling this stuff.”


Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

@alexbeadlesci

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds an MChem in materials chemistry from the University of St Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie Scholarship and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.

 

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