In a surprising turn, Pennsylvania is throwing the door wide open for industrial hemp production — something the state and country have not seen since before World War II.
State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said last week that Pennsylvania submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows for the full commercial production of industrial hemp.
Hemp has a slew of potential applications, including beauty products, clothing, bioplastics for car parts and more, building materials and housing insulation, energy storage devices for electronics, 3-D printing filament, pest resistance and weed suppression, and food oils and rope.
The move follows the December passage of the federal farm bill, which removed industrial hemp — cannabis plants with little of the chemical that gets you high — from regulation under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
When the law was passed, the state Agriculture Department had a research-based plan for hemp underway, and with no federal rules in place on how legalization would work, said it was too late to change course for 2019. But on Jan. 22, Redding said Pennsylvania will reopen the 2019 program to include applications for commercial growing operations.
The state said its program will also remove growing caps of 100 acres for current and new applicants.
“Pennsylvania’s story is shaped by agriculture and the products that help grow the commonwealth, and industrial hemp presents an exciting new chapter in that story,” Redding said in a statement.
The farm bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, allows the interstate commerce of hemp products and hemp cultivation and processing for any use.
But the bill’s vague language left unclear the permitted commercial scope of state pilot programs, and it did not change the Controlled Substances Act to exempt hemp varieties of cannabis.
Under Pennsylvania’s proposed plan, industrial hemp would be regulated under the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, which in turn would make it a controlled plant.
Such a label would require all growers to obtain permits and be subject to enforcement. But there would be no limit on the number of applicants.