After 80-Year Ban, Pennsylvania Welcomes Benefits of Industrial Hemp
"The benefit of hemp is the entire crop can be used"
In Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, hundreds of pounds of industrial hemp were planted on June 1, 2017, marking the first time hemp has been grown in the state in nearly 80 years. And the hemp planting is moving right along. 
“What you’re seeing now is the culmination of some 20 years of effort by some of my colleagues in the Pennsylvania hemp industry.”
Thanks to the State Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, launched in December, the 3-acre plot in Upper Saucon Township is being transformed from a field full of dry cornstalks into a lush green canopy of hemp (marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin). 
The goal of the project is to find out whether industrial hemp cultivation in Pennsylvania could be a valuable, viable business. The Upper Saucon Township site is 1 of 16 state-approved research projects being launched. State officials are calling industrial hemp “a promising and versatile crop with enormous market potential.” 
“I am hopeful that we can reestablish the industrial hemp crop in the Lehigh Valley.” 
Lehigh University is involved in a number of the projects, including the Upper Saucon site. The Rodale Institute in Maxatawny Township, Berks County, is also working on one of the state’s hemp projects and hopes to start planting soon. 
Hemp fibers store electricity, which could be used to create highly efficient batteries. The plant might also be useful for decontaminating soil, as hemp leaches heavy metals from soil. Hemp fibers also have antibacterial properties with a wide range of uses. In fact, industrial hemp is believed to have more than 25,000 uses.
The Rodale Institute will also evaluate the newly-planted hemp both as a cash crop and as a potential weed-control tool.
“Hemp has the potential of being one of the largest revenue crops that they can grow. The benefit of hemp is the entire crop can be used,” Whaling said.
Hemp seeds can be used in oils; the outer fiber casing can be dried, stripped from the plant, and turned into rope, building materials, clothes, oil, and paint. Hemp fiber can be used to replace carbon fiber, too. Nothing has to go to waste. Hemp seeds offer a number of health benefits as well.
Kris Nichols, the chief scientist at Rodale, explained:
“We were sort of looking at exploring some different crops we could put into the crop rotation that would really be able to help us either acting as a cover crop or cover/cash crop.
It will help with management so we won’t have to use synthetic herbicides, but also can be used to enhance soil health.”
Hemp had been grown in Pennsylvania since its early settlers arrived, but it was banned in the state in the 1930’s. Unlike marijuana, however, hemp contains a minuscule amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. You wouldn’t smoke hemp to get high. 
Given hemp’s many uses and non-psychoactive properties, there is no reason for us to not utilize this plant for all it has to offer.
But hemp is a still strain of cannabis sativa, and the Nixon administration’s passage of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all varieties of the cannabis sativa plant as a Schedule I drug – alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Winning approval for the projects required a bit of legal finagling.
State Representative Garth Everett said:
“Long term agriculture is still the number one industry in Pennsylvania. This could be a very valuable agricultural product and it could be sued for a lot of things. This is a new era for growing hemp.”
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.