HARRISBURG — An image makeover for cannabis isn’t limited to convincing lawmakers that the drug can help children with seizures and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a proposal to allow use of medical marijuana makes headway, a growing segment of the farming community is pushing for relaxed bans on hemp production, as well.
Last year’s federal Farm Bill allowed state universities and agriculture departments to conduct research on industrial-grade hemp. Twenty states have allowed for some production of hemp, which can be used in food, fiber, plastics, building materials, textiles and paper, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A handful of states have leap-frogged federal limits and allowed for even broader commercial production.
In Pennsylvania, businesses can use hemp products, but farmers cannot grow it. A proposal in the Legislature would allow farmers to follow the federal guidelines, growing a limited supply of hemp for research purposes.
“That’s why this bill is a game-changer, said Steve Auerbach, a lawyer who heads the lobbying group Cannabis Growers Association of Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, who proposes allowing limited hemp production, compared differences in cannabis plants – those prized by marijuana users and the kind used in hemp production – to differences between sweet corn and field corn.
The industrial-grade hemp plant contains relatively little of the psychoactive chemicals that create a high for marijuana users.
Schwank noted that hemp parachute straps were used by former President George H. W. Bush when he was a World War II fighter pilot. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp. The flag made by Betsy Ross was sewn from the plant’s fibers, as well.
Auerbach uses a different analogy: He said marijuana and hemp are as closely related as a lemon and a grapefruit. “You’d have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole,” to get high from hemp, he said.
In North Dakota, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a law in March that allows for commercial production of hemp and suggested that the federal regulations should not interfere with the state’s plans.
Schwank said a plan like North Dakota’s “would have been a step too far” in Pennsylvania.
“I wanted to put something out that could pass,” she said.
That frustrates Shawn Freeman House, of Lancaster, …Read More