Nov 21, 2019 3:21 PM

Legal hemp, CBD stir more farmers to grow unfamiliar crop

Posted Nov 21, 2019 3:21 PM

By DAVID EGGERT Associated Press

CLAYTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Dave Crabill and two business partners started small for their first foray into farming hemp, growing two strains of the now-legal cousin of marijuana on an acre along a dirt road outside the industrial city of Flint.

The endeavor wasn’t easy. Flooding from record rain stunted some plants. Crabill and others had to carefully walk the field and uproot 1,000 undesirable males, a third of the plants, to protect more valuable females. Some plants were stolen. And it’s still not clear whether they will make money from the effort, which Crabill likened to “planting $20 bills and hoping to harvest $50.”

“That’s why we did the 1 acre,” said Crabill, who runs a small marketing company and is among more than 500 people who registered this year as hemp growers in Michigan, many hoping to capitalize on the growing demand for the extract CBD. “Something manageable. We can make mistakes and it won’t kill us. ... We’re all going to be smarter next year.”

The legalization of industrial hemp in the U.S. less than a year ago has sparked interest from both traditional farmers and newbies like Crabill. The early stages are proving tricky, but up for grabs is a lucrative market, one that could grow more than five-fold globally by 2025 — driven by demand for CBD. The compound, which doesn’t cause a high like that of marijuana, is hyped as a health product to reduce anxiety, treat pain and promote sleep.

The U.S. is the biggest hemp-importing country, and even before the cannabis plant was fully legalized federally, some states ran pilot programs under the 2014 farm bill. Last month, the U.S. government finalized an interim national regulatory framework that is expected to pave the way for the crop’s widespread commercialization starting as early as 2020.

In Michigan, farmers who participated in the state’s first growing season since World War II cover the gamut — including cannabis enthusiasts and large-scale operators who want to diversify beyond low-price commodities.

For attorney Keith Hagen and his two farmer brothers, branching out past sugar beets, wheat and dry beans was primarily a financial decision. They founded Hempure Farm in Ubly and grew 340 acres (140 hectares) of hemp, the most statewide.

“There’s not a lot of money being made in any crop right now. The margins are so small ... and then you start piling on tariffs and those margins even get smaller,” Hagen said. “So when something new like hemp popped up, well they’ve got the agricultural expertise. It then just turned into a matter of learning as much as you can on how to do this.”

Producing hemp, especially for CBD extraction, is labor-intensive. Obtaining high-quality seeds can be difficult and expensive. Weed control is an issue; little is known about safely or legally using pesticides. Before a crop is harvested, it’s tested for THC, the chemical in cannabis that causes a high. If the level is “hot,” above 0.3%, the plants must be destroyed.

“It’s incredibly complicated,” Hagen said, pointing to “countless minefields” facing farmers, many of whom “will probably lose their shirt, for lack of a better term.”

Vote Hemp says more than 30 states issued 17,800 licenses to farmers and researchers in the wake of hemp’s legalization, more than quintuple the 2018 figure. Of the half a million acres (202,350 hectares) covered, though, an estimated 295,000 (119,000 hectares) weren’t planted because of limited access to seedlings and clones, a lack of financing and a “huge number” of inexperienced growers, according to the nonprofit advocacy group. It estimates that about 50% to 60% of the planted acres, or 120,000 (48,560 hectares) to 144,000 (58,280 hectares), will be harvested, once crop failures, non-compliant plants and other factors are factored in.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s newly issued interim rules to facilitate hemp production will provide much-needed guidance on testing, background checks and other issues.

The industry also is closely tracking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Though products containing CBD are already in stores and sold online, the agency says CBD-infused foods, drinks and dietary supplements are illegal. It’s exploring ways that the compound might officially be allowed.

“There is a bit of a medicinal market and there is a bit of an almost salon-type market,” said Hagen, who expects to produce about 1.5 million dried pounds (680,000 kilograms) of hemp this year for use in products such as lotions and oils. “The real launching point, though, is when the FDA allows CBD to be put into real consumable products. That’s where we’ll really see what this can do.”

Ron Bates, director of the Michigan State University Extension’s Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, said would-be growers should have contracts in place in advance.

“You just don’t harvest this stuff and take it to the elevator and sell it,” he said. “The market infrastructure’s just not there yet.”

For now, many states are playing catch-up.

“This is really a learning year for everybody,” said Gina Alessandri, Michigan’s industrial hemp program director. “There still are a lot more questions than answers for many people.”

Continue Reading Panhandle Post
Nov 21, 2019 3:21 PM
Hospital psychiatric wards now feel like prisons, some say

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — New safety standards aimed at limiting suicide risks have led to overhauls inside hospitals around the country, with psychiatric facilities and wards removing bathroom doors, stripping artwork from walls and requiring patients to wear paper gowns instead of their own clothes.

The changes have forced costly renovations and caused a backlash, with some critics contending they’ve made hospital rooms feel more like jail cells.

Regulators say the new guidelines leave room to protect patient dignity and privacy, but many hospital officials tasked with updating facilities and their procedures say they’ve gone too far.

“I think we are moving toward a very prison-like system,” said Patricia Rehmer, president of the Behavioral Health Network for Hartford HealthCare, which operates Hartford Hospital. “We try and make it comfortable, we try and have as many things available as we can, but it’s not easy.”

New suicide prevention requirements took effect on July 1 on orders of The Joint Commission, an agency that works with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and accredits the vast majority of the country’s psychiatric hospitals.

A 2018 report by The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety found an estimated 49 to 65 hospital suicides happen annually. The report was described as the first data-driven estimate of inpatient suicides per year in hospitals.

In general, now pictures cannot be hung on walls, doors on bathrooms are either removed or replaced with polystyrene foam doors, and remotes are removed for televisions that are now secured behind plastic glass. Ceiling tiles and door handles must be replaced with risk-resistant ones along with special types of beds and sheets.

“We’re buying the same furniture and plumbing fixtures as prisons and jails,” said Dr. Bruce Schwartz, president of the American Psychiatric Association, adding that the requirements are creating harsher environments in psychiatric facilities.

Several organizations with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association have struggled to comply with the new requirements in the timeframe expected by The Joint Commission, said Laura Appel, the association’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer. She said empty rooms may be safer but they’re also significantly less comfortable.

“The lack of doors means an insult to patient privacy,” she said.

Mental health advocates have raised concerns that less comfortable environments for patients could be less healthy.

Michaela Fissel, executive director of Advocacy Unlimited, said hospitals could make the settings more homelike and comfortable by adding yoga or music and letting patients wear their own clothes instead of a paper garment.

One patient, Cheyenne Wilson, said she felt as though she were in solitary confinement when she was admitted to Hartford Hospital’s psychiatric unit for half a day when she was experiencing suicidal ideation. She said she had her belongings taken and searched and was told to get dressed in a paper garment.

“They took my clothes away and made me get dressed behind a curtain, not even in another room,” she said.

Her father, Beresford Wilson, co-chairs the Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership Oversight Council. He raised his daughter’s experience at a September meeting and said it had too much of a punitive feeling.

“I think to make the experience as normal as possible when the person is under that distress, what they are looking for is normalcy as much as possible, not restriction or confinement,” he said.

After her experience in the emergency unit, he said his daughter was given a therapy referral and has been taking classes to become a certified nurse assistant.

Dr. Charles Herrick, chair of psychiatry for the Western Connecticut Health Network, said the changes can make patients feel more depressed and can demoralize them.

“If you perceive the environment as a prison — and prisons are a place of punishment — then you can’t help but think you are being punished, whether consciously or unconsciously,” he said.

In response to criticism of the new guidelines, Joint Commission officials say they believe hospitals should be able to protect patient dignity and privacy while meeting safety standards.

“Balancing privacy and safety is always an important factor when caring for patients at-risk,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “It is vital for organizations to develop procedures to ensure that individuals are regularly reassessed so the level of security/monitoring implemented is appropriate for the assessed level of risk.”

The cost of renovating spaces and buying new equipment is another reason some hospitals have objected to the new requirements.

Partly citing such costs, two hospitals in Ohio and Wyoming closed their psychiatric units within the past couple of years. Officials from both hospitals declined to comment.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia had to remove bathroom doors in two-person rooms in its psychiatric ward, according to Dr. Kenneth Certa, a professor of psychiatry at the university’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College. He said that meant removing one person from the room for privacy concerns __ and that decreases the number of people who can be helped at a given time.

Certa also said the hospital also had to purchase safety sensors for about 48 doors, costing $785,600 in total.

On average, the length of stay for psychiatric patients at a psychiatric facility is seven to 10 days, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

A movement away from institutionalization over the last half century has led to community-based mental health services replacing long stays in psychiatric hospitals. That same trend has also coincided with larger numbers of mentally ill people becoming homeless or incarcerated, where they receive little treatment — or none at all.