• Jamie

PA's Commercial Hemp Program

This just in, Pennsylvania is opening the door for commercial, industrial hemp production which the U.S. has not seen since before World War II. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said last Tuesday that Pennsylvania submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow for the full commercial production of industrial hemp. This move follows the December’s passage of the federal farm bill, which removed industrial hemp — cannabis plants with little THC (the part that gets you high) — from regulation under the federal Controlled Substances Act. When the law was passed, the state Agriculture Department had a research-based plan for hemp operations, and with no federal rules in place on how legalization would go, said it was too late to change course for 2019.

However, on Tuesday, Redding said Pennsylvania will reopen the 2019 program to include applications for commercial growing operations. The state said its program will also remove growing caps of 100 acres for current and new applicants. “Pennsylvania’s story is shaped by agriculture and the products that help grow the commonwealth, and industrial hemp presents an exciting new chapter in that story,” Redding said in a news release. The farm bill, signed by President Trump on Dec. 20, allows the interstate commerce of hemp products and hemp cultivation and processing for any use. Hemp has a multitude of potential applications, including beauty products, clothing, bioplastics for car parts and more, building materials and housing insulation, energy storage devices for electronics, 3D printing filament, pest resistance and weed suppression, and food oils and rope. This new law also allows the extraction of cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating chemical compound that has a calming effect on many users and is currently being used to treat a variety of medical conditions including insomnia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. The bill marked a huge step from changes enacted in 2014 which gave states the authority to establish agricultural research pilot programs.

Unfortunately, the bill language was vague leaving it unclear the permitted commercial scope of state pilot programs, and it did not change the hemp varieties of cannabis being exempt from the Controlled Substances Act. In 2016, Pennsylvania launched a pilot program. As of Tuesday, 84 permit applications have been conditionally approved, pending a Feb. 1 deadline for paying the program fee and signing an agreement, according to department spokeswoman Shannon Powers. The list of growers is expected to be made public after finalization.

Under Pennsylvania’s proposed plan, industrial hemp would be under the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, which in turn would make it a controlled plant. Such a label would require all growers to obtain permits and be subject to enforcement. There will be no limit on the number of applicants though. Hemp supporters praised Redding’s decision. “It’s one more step, but in this case it’s a big step for Pennsylvania farmers who are certainly seeking alternatives in new rotational crops,” said Geoff Whaling, president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industrial Council in Fleetwood, Berks County. Whaling, also a chairman of the National Hemp Association, said Pennsylvania’s changes will give farmers a chance to earn more revenue.

Industrial hemp was a cash crop in Pennsylvania and many other places back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Once a booming industry, hemp production was curtailed after World War II amid a marijuana scare. Hemp cultivation became explicitly illegal in 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, which all varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant were classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Hemp processing is the fundamental missing link in creating efficient supply chains that, on one end, entice farmers to grow the crop, and on the other end, compel established industries to give hemp-based technologies an opportunity. So, supply-chain challenges remain, Whaling and Powers said. This includes such aspects as how to harvest hemp on a large scale and determining what its main pests are. “There’s 80 years of missing information,” Powers said. Whaling said the Pennsylvania hemp group is planning to make a “substantial announcement” soon about a regional hemp industrial park. “It’s a significant investment, the first of what I hope will be many,” he said, declining Tuesday to release specifics. Whaling also said Tuesday’s announcement is a “win-win” for the hemp industry, “and we couldn’t be more thankful to the department.” Pennsylvania and Kentucky are the only states to have submitted a program to the USDA.

Agronomed affiliate, Agri-Kind Hemp will continue to grow industrial hemp in the Commonwealth after this announcement. Agronomed also has a hemp processing facility in Pottstown, PA. One of very few of its kind in the keystone state. For more information of Agri-Kind Hemp and Agronomed’s operations, please contact info@agri-kind.com

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