Some State Farmers To Grow Industrial Hemp

But the bill's vague language left unclear the allowable commercial scope of state pilot programs, and it did not change the Controlled Substances Act to exempt hemp varieties of cannabis. Therefore, any hemp grown outside the bounds of a given state's pilot program parameters remains illegal without that DEA permit.

'Let this industry grow' State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Berks County Democrat, spearheaded the legislative effort to reintroduce hemp in Pennsylvania, one of more than 30 states to do so in some capacity since the 2014 Farm Bill. In July, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law establishing the research pilot program.

Three weeks later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the DEA and Food and Drug Administration attempted to clarify how federal law actually applies to industrial hemp. But hemp advocates say they only raised more questions and ultimately prompted the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department to be more cautious when writing its pilot program rules. Industrial hemp products, the federal agencies said, may only be sold among states with pilot programs, and only for the purpose of "marketing research" -- not "general commercial activity."

Confused? So was a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives. In a letter to the three federal agencies, they pointed out that Congress has prevented the agencies from messing with state pilot programs that comply with the 2014 Farm Bill.

The problem, said Ross Pifer, director of the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law at Penn State, is that the Controlled Substances Act prohibits certain activities that the Farm Bill has authorized. That concerns state legislators and others preparing Pennsylvania's pilot program.

The imminent change in administration complicates matters, Pifer said. Will the new leaders of federal agencies interpret existing law the same way, or come up with their own?

That uncertainly might make Pennsylvania's approach seem prudent.

"Unlike other states, we took a great interest in not crossing lines that the federal government has established," said state Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon County, who sponsored Pennsylvania hemp pilot bill. "Depending on what happens with the new administration in Washington, those other states moving faster than us could be in trouble."

Some fear it's Pennsylvania that will be in trouble as other states take the lead. The Pennsylvania Farmers Union said in a statement that the state "missed a golden opportunity to leapfrog to the leadership role Pennsylvania historically held in U.S. industrial hemp production."

Schwank believes the state Agriculture Department acted too cautiously and should have done a better job consulting stakeholders. For example, she said, many are disappointed they cannot study CBD, an oil extract used for medicinal purposes.

"There was a disconnect between what we had anticipated and what the actual guidelines turned out to be," she said. "I'm going to continue to reach out to the department and encourage them to let this industry grow."

HEMP HISTORY 1683: Two years after William Penn founded Pennsylvania, the General Assembly passes "an act for the encouraging of raising hemp in Pennsylvania." 1685: Penn predicts hemp would be a trade staple for the state. 1700s: George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson grow hemp 1720-1870: Lancaster County alone has more than 100 mills for processing hemp fiber, with hundreds throughout the state Mid-1800s: Invention of the cotton gin and wood pulp products cause production to slow 1937: Marihuana Tax Act passes, requiring growers to register hemp crops and creating an expensive tax stamp 1970: Controlled Substances Act classifies the entire Cannabis sativa L. plant as an illegal drug, making hemp cultivation virtually impossible Source: Historian Les Stark; Hemphistoryweek.com HEMP USES The hemp plant has many uses and is an ingredient in many products, including: Rope, clothing and other textiles, seed snacks, salad oil, cereal, soap, deodorant, cosmetics, pulp and paper, plastic composites for automobile parts, insulation, paneling, hempcrete and other construction materials, biodiesel fuel, paint, anti-inflammatory drugs and other medicines. Sources: Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

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