House could take up bill allowing research into industrial hemp

A state House panel moved a bill that paves the way for research into industrial uses of hemp research

After approval by the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, the bill now moves to the House floor. The measure would allow university researchers and programs administered by the Department of Agriculture to study industrial hemp through a pilot program.

The legislation is sponsored by State Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) and is one step toward re-establishing the industrial hemp industry in the state, which used to lead the nation.

Industrial hemp production stopped in 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. Hemp has been illegal since 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act passed, as hemp comes from the cannabis plant.

In May, it was reported that Canadians are turning a profit from production of hemp seed. According to an Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development report, estimated gross revenue for Canadian hemp seed production was between $30.75 million and $34 million. In 2010, exports of Canadian hemp seed and hemp products were valued at more than $10 million.

Hemp can be used to manufacture products such as paper, cloth, rope and building materials. The crop is largely banned in the United States, so it is imported from around the world.  

In 2014, a federal farm bill lessened restrictions tied to the production of industrial hemp and authorized pilot programs.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures , seven states have already passed laws that allow industrial hemp programs for agricultural or academic research purposes: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Utah

In Pennsylvania, some state legislators are pushing to catch up.

The Senate has its own industrial hemp research bill. Senate Bill 50, introduced by Sens. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), would allow for the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp as part of a research program at a college or university.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are hearing a lot about cannabis this year. Senate Bill 3, which would legalize marijuana for certain medical purposes, passed the Senate in 2014 and is waiting action in the House.

Lenay Ruhl

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