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Pennsylvania Senate Passes Industrial Hemp Bill

By Chris Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved a bill to start an industrial hemp farming pilot program today with a 49-0 vote.

The legislation, SB50, is sponsored by Senators Judy Schwank (D. Berks) and Mike Folmer (R. Lebanon).

«We hope that, once we get this started, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can become a powerhouse in the growth of hemp for all kinds of uses,” Senator Schwank said in a statement

Les Stark of the PA Hemp Industries Council (PAHIC), who helped to bring about the bill, said today, «This is a great day for Pennsylvania. We have such a deep history with hemp, but the future will be incredible.»

Indeed, William Penn was a great purveyor of hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also, famously, included the crop on their plantations.

Erica McBride of PAHIC was also excited to see the strong support in the Senate today, «We are one step closer to bringing back a thriving hemp industry that will benefit every single Pennsylvanian.»

The bill now goes to the House floor. It was already approved unanimously by the House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee last October.

The Pa Industrial Hemp Act will allow small-scale hemp farming research programs by colleges and universities or contractors working with those institutions.

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.

Last year industrial hemp was harvested in Colorado, Kentucky and a handful of other states. Still there are only a few hundred acres being farmed in these nascent domestic programs.

Hemp is in the cannabis family but it’s a very different plant. Growing in tall stalks, like bamboo, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC and other cannabinoids compared to its cousin, marijuana.

Another fan of the bill is ex-Flyer Riley Cote. He’s been running a popular summer concert series at Penn’s Landing with his Hemp Heals Foundation. Cote joined PAHIC for a hemp building workshop last summer.

Back in 2012 during Farm Aid in Hershey, music legend Willie Nelson brought Native American poet and activist John Trudell on stage.

“As a person of the land and as a human being, I relate to farmers as being people of the land. With all of the problems that we are confronted with and are faced with…I would like you all to consider learning the realities of industrial hemp,” said Trudell.

«It will save the family farm,» Trudell added, prompting cheers from the huge crowd.

Trudell passed away in December. He would be pleased that Pa is following his sage advice.

Senator Schwank echoed Trudell’s sentiment.

“It’s an age-old plant that has benefited farmers and consumers for thousands of years, and it holds the promise of helping Pennsylvania farmers in significant ways, once again,” said Schwank.