Producers ready if NY eases rules on hemp
Added Sunday, 28 December 2014
If Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill, the first plantings could take place in the spring.
A controversial plant could fuel a new agricultural and manufacturing boom in New York, say supporters of a law that would ease restrictions on growing industrial hemp in the state.
A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, would permit hemp to be grown as part of an agricultural pilot program starting next year. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and Senate, where Sen. Tom O'Mara, R-Big Flats, was the sponsor.
It is now awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature. A spokesperson for the governor could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The goal is to establish capacity and interest in producing hemp products on New York land, with New York labor, to generate money and taxes that stay in the state, Lupardo said.
"Go into any health food store, and there's usually a whole section of hemp products: Hemp shampoo, hemp beer, hemp clothing," she said. "The newest discovery is the food angle."
Hemp is grown for its fibers, which are made into textiles and building materials, and its seeds, which are made into food and fuel oils and meal. Most hemp products are imported from Canada, one of 30 exporting countries.
In 2011, more than $11 million of hemp products were imported into the United States, a number that had doubled in five years, according to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center (AMRC) at Iowa State University. That figure is itself in dispute. A 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service, "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity," estimates the value of imports at $37 million.
What is not in dispute is the variety of hemp applications. The AMRC reports hemp is made into 25,000 products, with most of its recent growth coming in the form of food products like hemp seed oil, which is rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. According to the Congressional Research Service report, hemp products made up a $500 million retail market in 2013.
The problem with hemp, supporters say, is guilt by association. It is a kissing cousin to marijuana: In the same biological family, but genetically distinct. Those different genes reduce the psychoactive ingredient, a chemical called THC, to less than 1 percent, compared with 10-30 percent in marijuana, according to the CRS.
Hemp is not illegal to grow in the United States, merely difficult. It requires a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, something that is rarely granted, according to Vote Hemp, a national nonprofit advocacy organization that works to shift policy on regulating hemp to states.
The door was cracked with the passage of the 2014 federal farm bill, which removed hemp cultivation for agricultural research from DEA oversight in states where growing it is legal. The bill on Cuomo's desk would add New York to that list of states, currently at 18.
The legislation has the support of the New York Farm Bureau, spokesman Steve Ammerman said. The bureau said the proposed pilot program would generate data on best practices for growing hemp in the state, which farmers would use if it is made legal statewide.
"Down the road, it could position our farmers to take advantage of a new market," he said. "It could allow them to diversify and take advantage of new business opportunities."
Congress is also taking a look at hemp. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, would legally separate hemp from marijuana, clearing the way to grow it legally for industrial purposes.
"The more states that pass research bills, the more that express support, the more Congressman Hanna will have support for his bill," Lupardo said.
Businesses that produce hemp products are also watching the legislation's progress. American Seed and Oil, a veteran-owned startup based in Vermont, worked with farmers to produce that state's largest hemp crop this year. It was four acres, grown under that state's pilot program, but CEO Steve Rash said the company plans to plant 1,000 acres in 2015.
The company is involved in all stages of hemp production, from growing to processing to marketing, Rash said. It has a facility on the New York-Vermont border that can process hemp oil, as well as agreements to supply soapmaker Dr. Bronner's and a startup that makes vaporizers for children with seizure disorders. Hemp oil, new research shows, can be effective at treating many of the same illnesses that respond to medical marijuana.
Spokesman Mike Murphy said the company is looking to partner with Paul Smith's College in Brighton to plant seeds for its first New York crop, if the pilot program gets Cuomo's approval.
If the governor acts, the first hemp plantings could take place across the state in 2015.
"Once you get people past the fact that it's a cousin of the cannabis plant, people are more interested in it," Lupardo said.
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