A young hemp plant in Aurora, Oregon, is pictured in June. Credit: Gillian Flaccus | AP

A Machias farmer in his first year of growing industrial hemp says thieves stole some of his crop and that he thinks they will try to sell it on the street as marijuana, even though it lacks the chemical compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Ben Edwards, who owns and operates Schoppee Farm with his wife, said Monday that the theft occurred sometime over the weekend of Sept. 14-15, during the full moon. He declined to say how much was taken, but described it as a “substantial” amount.

“It’s more than 5 or 10 pounds,” Edwards said.

The Maine Forest Service, which investigates crop theft and other illegal harvesting of land-based natural resources, put the estimated value of the stolen hemp at between $15,000 and $20,000.

The crop is not marijuana, though it is closely related to that type of plant, which has been cultivated for at least hundreds of years and used either recreationally for the high it imparts on users or for medicinal uses such as dulling pain or nausea.

Edwards said his product, like marijuana, is grown for the flower it produces and, at first glance and sniff, is indistinguishable from the other plant. The only way to tell the difference is to field test it with a scientific kit or to smoke it, he said.

Edwards’ crop lacks tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, and so will not get anyone high, he said. He grows hemp for its cannabidiol, or CBD, which also has medicinal uses without the associated high of marijuana.

The farmer said he does not know why the thief or thieves stole his crop, but speculated that whoever took it will try to sell it on the street as marijuana. The amount taken is too great for anyone to use or even to just share with friends, he said, so he does not think an opportunist took it for an easy way to get stoned.

And, he added, he thinks whoever took it will sell it knowing that it won’t get their customers the high they are seeking. It would make no sense for someone to steal industrial hemp and then try to resell it as industrial hemp, which has no local black market and requires a state license to either grow or sell it, he said.

“This is too much to have been taken for personal use,” Edwards said. “The street value of marijuana is reasonably high.”

He said in the past week he has spoken to industrial hemp farmers in the West who tell him such thefts are a common problem in their states. His crop is fairly visible where it grows right alongside the road, he said, and the quantity he grows is too large to be cultivated indoors, as most medical marijuana crops are. He said he doesn’t want to erect a high security fence around the field but added, without going into detail, that he has security system in place that he has beefed up since the theft last week.

Edwards said he knows of no other hemp farmers in Maine who have had their crop stolen.

District Ranger Ben Goodwin of the Maine Forest Service said Monday that the agency has just begun looking into who might have stolen the hemp from Schoppee Farm. He said the forest service has more experience investigating timber or blueberry theft than it does with hemp, which is a relatively new licensed crop in Maine.

“This is our first hemp case, but we’re going to treat it like any other theft,” Goodwin said.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....