BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
Legislators are once again considering legislative action related to industrial hemp which could make it easier for farmers to grow and process the product in West Virginia. Legislation like Senate Bill 475 addresses challenges the nascent industry has been facing during its first few years of operation in the state.
Farmers, legislators, everyday people, and news stories alike have lauded the industrial hemp industry as a light at the end of the tunnel of Appalachia’s economic woes. Despite this optimism, industrial hemp’s full potential impact on the economy remains to be seen.
Since the passage of the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which authorized industrial hemp production in the United States for the first time in decades, farmers have been working with state representatives to hit the ground running on industrial hemp production.
Not long after the passage of the Farm Bill, West Virginia legislators authorized WVU to perform research on industrial hemp in West Virginia. Since then, multiple crops have been harvested and have be used as raw materials to produce paper, textiles, and a number of other products.
With the Legislature’s support, West Virginia’s industrial hemp industry is growing, but not without challenges.
At present, industrial hemp seeds can only be purchased from companies based in Europe or elsewhere outside of the United States due to a lack of other availability. While farmers are certainly happy to get them, seeds developed in Europe are often not optimized for growth in West Virginia soil, meaning that a significant portion of each crop is unsuccessful.
Farmers are further restricted by federal interstate commerce laws. Because hemp in all its forms is classified as a Schedule I drug, it cannot be transported across state lines in its raw form. This means industrial hemp farmers must have access to at least the first phase of hemp processing within the state to be able to turn a profit.
This Session, the Legislature is working to address both of these issues. Senate Bill 475 would allow the Commissioner of Agriculture to create an industrial hemp seed development program. This program would allow the Department of Agriculture to experiment and develop seeds that are optimized for growth conditions in West Virginia.
Senators Sypolt, Beach, Cline, and Boso even introduced a Senate Concurrent Resolution urging Congress to reassess the federal definition of industrial hemp to give more leeway to farmers.
While Legislators work to iron out the details, industrial hemp farmers are hard at work hoping to build out the “downstream industries” necessary to make the crop profitable.
What do you think about industrial hemp? Let your legislators know by calling, writing, tweeting, emailing, or Facebooking.
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