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Virginia legislator looks at legally growing industrial hemp
By JANE W. GRAHAM
RICHMOND, Va. (July 15, 2014) — The 2014 Farm Bill contains a change in language that allows research universities to grow industrial hemp.
Virginia Delegate Joseph Yost, R-Dist. 12, wants to take it a step further. He wants to make it legal for farmers to grow this native crop once again in Virginia.
Yost is refining his proposed legislation, which he hopes to file July 23, the first day he can do so for the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly.
He said he believes the move will be the first step in opening a door of opportunity for Virginia farmers and a new industry to process the crop.
“We’re the only industrialized country in the world not growing it,” Yost said. He noted that 25,000 products contain hemp in some form. Items that include hemp include fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials, food, body care products, nutritional supplements and sustainable fuels.
“Hemp is probably one of the world’s most misunderstood plants,” Yost wrote in a recent newspaper column. “Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa and is of the same plant species as marijuana.”
The two members of the cannabis family are genetically different. Industrial hemp is low in the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) while marijuana has a high THC content.
Yost responded to law enforcement officials’ concern that if hemp is grown legally, marijuana could be grown illegally in between the legal plants.
He said this is unlikely as research has shown that cross-pollination of the two has shown that the THC in marijuana is decreased as a result.
There is another difference.
While the leaves resemble one another, the plants do not.
Marijuana is a bushy plant and industrial hemp grows straight up to become 10 to 20 feet tall.
Yost said it looks somewhat like flax, the plant from which linen fibers are produced.
While it is generally believed that federal law has made growing industrial hemp illegal, this is not actually the case, the delegate said.
Instead, there is a permitting procedure through the Drug Enforcement Administration that is so “convoluted” it effectively ties the hands of anyone trying to gain access to the permit.
The change in the language of the 2014 Farm Bill will allow research universities to grow industrial hemp, Yost said.
He added he is aware both Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have researchers who have expressed an interest in researching the plant.
Yost said he wants to expand the new legislation to allow commercial production of a crop that was grown in the United States until about the time of World War II.
His proposal would require a permit and a farmer would have to commit at least two acres to growing industrial hemp.
Supporters of industrial hemp as a crop view it as one that could be able to take the place of tobacco, the plant that was the backbone of Virginia agriculture from Colonial times to the recent past.
Yost said it would also be a good crop for reclaimed strip mines in Southwest Virginia.
Industrial hemp has several positive factors going for it, Yost said. Yost quoted a famous farmer of by-gone days, Thomas Jefferson, who grew the crop as saying it will grow anywhere and once planted will be there forever.
It has comparatively low input costs, he said and it is ready to harvest four months after planting.
As for markets, Yost said there are two processing plants for hemp in North Carolina but the plants are currently importing hemp.
National retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million, Yost said, all from imported materials.