As It Happens

Hemp farmer Dale Weed says he's sick of thieves mistaking his plants for pot

Thieves are raiding the fields of New York state hemp farmers by the day — and on at least one occasion by gunpoint, says Dale Weed. He says the theft of his crop has nothing to do with his somewhat pertinent last name, because he doesn't associate his product with it.

'You could smoke a whole telephone pole of this product and you won't get high,' says Savannah, N.Y., grower

A sign beside an industrial hemp field warns off trespassers at JD Farms in Eaton, New York. Farmer Dale Weed says his fields in nearby Savannah, N.Y., have been looted by thieves on a daily basis. (Mary Esch/Associated Press)
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Transcript

When you hear that Dale Weed's hemp crop has been repeatedly raided by confused thieves mistaking his plants for marijuana, you may, understandably, chuckle — given his last name.

But for Weed and other farmers in the Savannah, N.Y., area, the situation is actually pretty sobering.

Weed harvests hemp for the extraction of CBD, or cannabidiol, an active ingredient in cannabis plants used to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and pain.

However, CBD is not psychoactive in the same way that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), extracted from marijuana plants, is. In other words, it does not produce a "high" sensation.

Weed spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off about the theft problem that he says is growing worse by the day. Here is part of their conversation.

Dale Weed is the owner of Pure Functional Foods and a hemp farmer in Savannah, N.Y. (Submitted by Dale Weed)

Just how big a target has your firm become for thieves?

Well, it's become a lot bigger than I thought. We didn't think there'd be any problem with people stealing from us, but it's gotten to ... once a week, and then it's gotten to the point of almost every day now. ... We've got hundreds of plants that people have taken.

And taken how? How are they getting your plants?

They trespass onto the property. They make trails through the woods. They drive onto our land, and then usually use machetes to chop the plants down and hurry away. 

Why are people stealing your hemp plants?

Well, everybody that we've talked to — we've had one person come and apologize after they're arrested — believes it's actually marijuana. And, you know, it smells similar and looks similar — but it's nothing like its bad cousin, marijuana.

We thought after, you know, they did it the first couple of times, we thought it would stop, but it's just gotten worse and worse.

The people are probably either users or sellers of marijuana. And if it's a user, they'll be sadly disappointed, because you could smoke a whole telephone pole of this product and you won't get high.

But if it's a seller, then they're going to be selling it to dissatisfied customers, and they'll probably come back and retaliate against them.

Hemp plants at MERJ farms in Bristol, Tenn. Dale Weed says thefts of the plants by people mistaking them for marijuana is a growing problem nationwide. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier/Associated Press)

How often are you being hit?

Every day. And then I talked to one farmer in New York state, that he's been confronted at gunpoint by people stealing his crop. And it's happened more than once.

And does he tell them, "Hey, guess what? This is not weed. This is not dope"?

Well, if you have a man pointing a gun at you telling you you're getting robbed, it's really not a point — at that point — where you do a lot of discussion, I think.

Just out of curiosity, Mr. Weed ... do you think it's possible that people think that it's a weed farm because of your name?

No. Most people don't know my name. My name hasn't been associated with it. I own a food manufacturing company, so it's always associated with the name of our company, Pure Functional Foods.

Muscle Joint & Relief Cream displayed at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition trade show in New York in May — an example of one of the many products derived from hemp CBD. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

What are the police saying?

The police have made several arrests, and are planning to make more. The thieves ... put videos of themselves doing this on Facebook. So a lot of it's been very easy to prove, because they've videoed themselves doing it. 

I've [talked to] one farmer that's lost a quarter of an acre just in one field. People are stealing it in the daytime. He's got people that were paid to come and steal it. He's met people in his field [and] asked them, "Why are you here?" And they said, "The same reason you're here — to steal weed." And they're telling the owner of the farm that they're there stealing weed from him. 

Have you confronted the thieves?

I haven't. My family and I've spent many hours watching our property. And we've got videos of people stealing — game cameras, and our company videos — but they all hide their identity ... We're working with the state police at this point. And in another year, we'll certainly have a lot more protection, if we decide to do this again. 

What do you grow the hemp for?

It's just for CBD (cannabidiol). And we have a license to extract the CBD out of the hemp plant. And, you know, if somebody's coming on our land, and they want to take hemp plants to take the CBD out, they need about a million dollars to be able to do that. 

So I don't think anybody coming to steal our plants has that extra million dollars to spend. 

Do you think this will come to an end?

I think it'll come to an end when it becomes a felony. I believe that the government needs to make it a felony — like [in] Australia. It's a felony there. It's one year in prison, and a $15,000 fine.

So, you know, if they're experiencing something with more bite in the law — right now, it's just basically trespass. And so it's hardly of any consequence for people to steal currently. I've talked to several people and they are they are interested in pursuing that. 

Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A edited for length and clarity. 

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