Industrial hemp research program sent to governor

HARRISBURG, July 10 – The state House of Representatives today unanimously passed, and sent to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, legislation including language sponsored by Rep. Marty Flynn that would establish an industrial hemp research pilot program in Pennsylvania.

The 2014 federal farm bill only allows pilot programs initiated and performed by colleges and the state Department of Agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. The legislation passed this week would create such a program.

"With favorable research, it’s our hope that more government leeway will occur, which can lead to a real market for the product, creating jobs and adding diversity to Pennsylvania’s agricultural portfolio," said Flynn, D-Lackawanna.

When the House originally passed the bill in April, Flynn amended the bill with language that would authorize contracts between the Agriculture Department or a college to grow or cultivate industrial hemp as part of an agricultural pilot program, but only with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration permission and other parameters.

Beyond being one of the world’s most durable fibers for textiles, hemp also can be used to manufacture biodegradable plastics, building materials, food, paper, environmental and energy products, Flynn said. Some companies overseas are switching out potentially dangerous fiberglass insulation with hemp insulation. Farmers are cultivating the plant in between growing seasons as a cover crop for its ability to keep valuable nutrients in the soil.

Being part of the cannabis family, industrial hemp has garnered some undeserved stigmas, according to Flynn. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp has a very low – almost undetectable – level of tetrahydrocannabinol and has zero psychoactive effects.

"It’s time for our state to address the false stigmas surrounding this agricultural product that has so many meaningful applications and opportunities for farmers, manufacturers, consumers and the environment," Flynn said.

The legislation (H.B. 967) heads to Gov. Tom Wolf.