It was another decisive victory for industrial hemp in Pennsylvania today as a bill was passed in the Pa House, without a single dissenting vote, that allows research crops of the multi-use plant.
A similar bill passed in the PA Senate, also unanimously, in March.
There were some minor changes to the House bill, but the measure seems poised to reach Governor Tom Wolf’s desk in short order.
Pennsylvania’s hemp history dates back to the founder of the Commonwealth, William Penn. The Quaker capitalist held hemp as central to his plans for agricultural prosperity.
Les Stark, a historian and hemp advocate with the Keystone Cannabis Coalition, was a leading force in the current bill.
“In 1683, one of the first measures passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly was ‘An act for the encouraging of raising hemp in Pennsylvania ‘ by making the fiber legal tender at four pence per pound to alleviate currency shortages and to promote commerce,” Stark pointed out, “In 1685, William Penn noted great quantities already cultivated in his province and declared that hemp would be among the staples of trade here.”
Special mills to process hemp fibers were scattered across Pennsylvania for centuries. But those businesses were shut down in the 1940s as marijuana prohibition took hold nationwide.
Industrial hemp has only trace amounts of THC. You would have to smoke acres of the stuff to get high, yet it was lumped in with the other varieties of the cannabis plant.
Industrial hemp also does not look anything like a smoke-able marijuana plant. Growing 10-14 feet tall and lacking the distinctively large flower buds where potent cannabinoids are formed, industrial hemp looks more like bamboo.
In 2014, the federal U.S. Farm Act relaxed the law and allowed states to experiment with industrial hemp crops without fear of interference. Kentucky, Colorado and handful of other places harvested hemp crops under those federal provisions and local state laws.
Stark and other local advocates have formed the Pennsylvania Hemp Industries Council to promote uses for the plant. They held a hemp building workshop last summer with State Senators Judy Schwank and Mike Folmer along with ex-Philadelphia Flyer and hemp advocate Riley Cote.
The current bill allows colleges, universities and contractors working with those academic institutions to plant research plots of hemp. Down the road it could be made available to family farmers.
Governor Wolf will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
A Congressional Research Service report from 2015 estimates that the current U.S. market for hemp products is $580 million annually. Right now almost all of the hemp used for food, t shirts and building applications is imported from Canada, Europe and China.
Having Pennsylvania farmers come back their roots on hemp would also please some of the more famous former residents of the Keystone State.
“I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. … Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where. “
George Washington wrote those lines in a 1794 letter while he served as the first U.S. President and was living at the corner of 6th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.
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