There are new headaches facing a growing sector of Vermont agriculture.
A farm in Colchester has reported a series of roughly six thefts to police, who say it appears criminals are targeting an industrial hemp crop—mistakenly believing it is marijuana.
“It has been really frustrating,” said Evan Fuller of Humble Roots Horticulture.
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The sign on the gate at Humble Roots Horticulture clearly says the plants grown on the property do not contain THC, the mind-altering substance found in marijuana.
That means the kind of cannabis plants growing at Humble Roots will not get you high, as could marijuana, which is sometimes described as being hemp’s lookalike cousin.
But the farm and the Colchester Police Department say thieves are stealing the industrial hemp, apparently mistaking it for pot.
In reality, the hemp is used to make CBD oil, which Humble Roots markets as a remedy for problems such as localized pain or inflammation.
Colchester police said the series of thefts over the past few weeks involved several hundred plants either lost or damaged—estimating the impact at more than $100,000 in lost crops.
“Those who may want to do this activity, you’re looking at a felony–it’s felony theft,” said Chief Doug Allen of the Colchester Police Department. “And very little gain for that kind of risk.”
In August, necn reported on how hemp is becoming more common in Vermont farm fields.
For that story, Anson Tebbetts, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said growers around the state have been eager to meet a spike in market interest, both for textiles and a range of salves and supplements said to have many potential applications for wellness.
“It’s keeping farmland in active agriculture practices, and there’s a potential they could have it as a cash crop,” Tebbetts said on Aug. 7.
Amid the boom in CBD wellness products, many clinicians are still calling for more research.
And now, this new criminal side effect has Humble Roots Horticulture expanding its surveillance camera system.
“We were immediately alerted that someone was at the property,” Fuller said of how quickly he and a colleague can respond to notifications that someone is approaching the gate.
Fuller said he hopes the police investigation—aided by surveillance footage—will result in court convictions of as many as a dozen suspects, which may dissuade anyone else from trying to target the operation.
“It’s discouraging,” Fuller said of the string of thefts. “But it’s not something that’s going to stop us.”