Va. explores industrial hemp after General Assembly action

AFP Correspondent

RICHMOND, Va. (Feb. 17, 2015) — A bill allowing research into the growth of industrial hemp in Virginia is opening the way for a new commercial crop for Virginia farmers.
Sponsored by Del. Joseph Yost (R-12) HB1277, the Virginia Industrial Hemp Farming Act, has passed in the House of Delegates and in the Senate where it was introduced by Sen. Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg).
The bill passed unanimously on Feb. 3 in the House and in a 32-5 vote in the Senate on Feb. 4, Yost said. It is awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature.
Jim Politis, a Montgomery County, Va., farmer and former member of the county’s board of supervisors, explained that this is the first step toward Virginia farmers being allowed to grow industrial hemp, a member of the cannabis family.
All growing of cannabis was outlawed by the Federal Government in the war on drugs to fight marijuana growth.
At present the United States is the only industrialized nation where hemp is not grown.
Proponents of hemp growing cite its many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, and fuel.
The new Farm Bill allows the growth of industrial hemp in Virginia by research institutions, both Politis and Lindsay Reames, assistant director for governmental relations of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said.
In the hope that research could begin and include farmers growing the crop this year as part of that research, Politis and Jason Amaqucci, president of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, met with state officials on Feb. 12.
They learned it will be at least 2016 before this will be possible due to several factors; the bill will not become law until July I, 2015; information needs to be obtained and research protocols developed. The group learned what must be done before the growing of hemp is a practice in Virginia.
Politis, as a member of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, will be serving on a committee to learn more what has to be done.
One step in the committee’s search is to learn how the University of Kentucky is conducting research in growing the crop under the provisions of the Farm Bill.
Another is finding a source of seed. It will have to be importer, Politis explained, because it has not been grown in the United States.
Several groups who voiced support included the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Agribusiness Council and Virginia Tech.
“The only group to voice opposition was the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, Yost said. “They took exception to a provision of the bill that protected certain information collected during licensing applications from Freedom of Information Act requests.”
“The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association is supportive of Virginia legalizing the production of industrial hemp for it has great potential as an added value crop potentially in much of the cattle country of western and Southside Virginia,” Jason Carter, the group’s executive secretary, said. 
Carter added there are two bills in Congress now that have been to require the USDA to legalize industrial hemp production and thereby make it legal to all states to follow suit.
“That process will take some time so we are still likely a few years away from true production anywhere; however,” Carter said. “Virginia having its own groundwork in place will have the Commonwealth ready for a crop that may add substantial value to Virginia farms.”