Pennsylvania could have numerous hemp fields after legalization
The Lancaster County’s fertile fields could yet again blossomwith hemp, if the government’s legalization of the plant—which was banned in 1937 due to its similarities with marijuana—materializes this year.
“We want to see people from all over Pennsylvania planting hemp, doing trials and testing varieties to see what grows best in different parts of the state,” said Erica McBride, executive director of both the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and the National Hemp Association, during the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
“Hemp is going to make a lot of products better and more sustainable”, she said.
McBride said that the hemp plant can be used in almost everything—from rope and fibre, to food, building materials, and even a form of fibreglass utilized by European auto manufacturers.
Hemp is also a great alternative for farmers who are distancing themselves from tobacco, as it’s easy to plant and maintain. It’s also an effective riparian buffer, enabling farmers to plant money crops along waterways and still protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“A lot of people still don’t understand the difference between hemp and marijuana’” said McBride. “There are lots of misconceptions out there.”
The need for information made the Farm Show a quite popular affair—with several potted hemp plants bearing resemblance to marijuana, being put on display.
“Everybody comes up and smells the plants. They touch the plants, take selfies with the plants... and they want to know more about it,” said McBride.
While hemp and marijuana are both types of cannabis, they are still quite distinct. Marijuana contains high levels of THC— compound which causes psychoactive effects—while hemp contains a very insignificant amount of the compound; the reason it is preferred in making stress-relievers such as CBD drip.
According to LNP archives, William Penn encouraged colonists to plant the useful crop, and the first inhabitants of the now Lancaster County began growing it around 1710.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 (H.R. 3530) is expected to be pass into law by Congress this year, said McBride. The move is bound to decriminalize hemp nationwide and create an avenue for unrestricted growth of the plant.
She also noted that developers are already gearing up for its implementation—with an industrial facility in Lehigh Valley capable of producing 14,000 acres of raw hemp for commercial use yearly. McBride predicts a wide market for hemp products springing up.
“People should be eating hemp every day,” she said. “It’s good for you.”
Fred Strathmeyer, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, was quite optimistic about it, but equally noted some drawbacks.
“The hope is, always, to create some economic value, more jobs and production plants in Pennsylvania,” Strathmeyer said. “The challenge right now is that there isn’t a lot of market for hemp.”
Manufacturers would fail to commit to the product until the government fully legalizes it, he said. He also noted that until the manufacturers are ready, farmers would be unwilling to plant seeds.
“It’s a chicken and the egg problem. Just tell me there’s a market, and the answer is yes,” he said.
Strathmeyer also added that the reintroduction of hemp into the marketplace “is not going to happen overnight.”
“It’s not a silver bullet. People are just getting used to the idea. Producers, manufactures and consumers have to meet in the middle.”