Farmers will soon be able legally to grow industrial hemp in Pennsylvania, but the crop will experience growing pains.
The biggest challenge facing the state’s industrial hemp program is that there is no funding allotted for research work, according to Logan D. Hall, deputy communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
The bill, which has passed the General Assembly, allows private farmers to apply to the the department to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. The farmers can work with the department or institutions of higher education to conduct research.
The legislation does not provide funding for industrial hemp, and funding for it is not included in the most recent version of the state budget.
Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign the industrial hemp bill into law next week, most likely on Wednesday, according to Wolf spokesperson Jeffrey Sheridan.
Private funding sought
In the absence of public funding, the department and research institutions will have to rely on private funding in order to launch pilot programs, according to Hall.
“It will be incumbent on the private sector to step up and support this research, and to find an eligible institution to perform the work,” Hall said.
Once Gov. Wolf signs the hemp legislation into law, the department is responsible for writing the program’s regulations.
The state is probably a year away from full implementation of rules governing industrial hemp, according to Hall.
Officials plan first to meet with stakeholders within the next few weeks to discuss implementation.
Some investors are already plowing money into the industrial hemp market.
Federal law an obstacle
The second challenge is that hemp is still illegal under federal law.
It is the same issue the state is facing with its medical marijuana law.
Because hemp is a product that stems from the cannabis plant, it is considered a controlled substance and is regulated by the federal government. As a result, cannabis-related activities that may be legal under state law may still violate federal law.
Outside of states passing industrial hemp legislation, the crop can only be grown if the Drug Enforcement Administration approves it for research purposes, according to the Congressional Research Service in its examination of cannabis policy called “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity.”
There are no known active federal licenses that allow for hemp cultivation at this time, according to the Congressional Research Service, and there is no large-scale commercial hemp production in the U.S.
Yet more than 30 nations grow industrial hemp, and the U.S. annually imports about $600 million worth of hemp products from Canada and China.
Hemp, unlike marijuana, contains very little of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
It can be made into products such as paper, clothing, fuel, animal feed and building materials.
Industrial hemp was grown in the U.S. up until the early 1900s, when production stopped due to changes in U.S. drug policy.
The current legislation in Pennsylvania aims to reestablish the industrial hemp industry in the state, which led the nation up until the early 1900s.