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BLOG: Potential biz owners laud Pa. hemp legislation

David Weissman
717-505-5431/@DispatchDavid

With all the attention surrounding the development of Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, legislation passed last week regarding industrial hemp may have flown under the radar, but not to potential business owners and farmers.

Sen. Mike Folmer yells, "We won," as he speaks before Gov. Tom Wolf signs the medical cannabis bill into law in the rotunda of the Capitol in Harrisburg, Sunday, April 17, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

House Bill 967, now Act 92 since Gov. Tom Wolf signed it into law, allows agriculture-related universities in the state to grow and research industrial hemp.

Hemp is essentially a sibling of marijuana in that the two plants share a lot of the same traits, but people will group them together despite notable differences.

In this case, federal government has mostly outlawed its production due to those similarities, despite the fact that hemp's low THC levels don't allow for psychoactive effects.

BLOG: Marijuana's rise could dent Big Pharma profits

Meanwhile, hemp is used in more than 25,000 products worldwide, according to a 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service, and the U.S. is the world's largest importer of the crop.

“We lost a promising and lucrative market for the last half-century, as a result of guilty association with marijuana," state Agriculture Secretary Russell C. Redding said in a news release. "There are all sorts of products that use hemp today — it’s estimated to be a nearly $600 million industry in the U.S. — but those dollars are going to growers in other countries rather than our producers."

Dan Clearfield, an attorney at Eckert Seamans is Harrisburg, said many of his clients interested in pursuing medical marijuana-related business are also interested in hemp.

The passage of Act 92 is the first step in allowing the hemp industry to develop in the state, Clearfield said.

The advantage hemp allows is that it's a product largely grown for reasons other than human consumption and, Clearfield said, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has shown it won't treat it as a Schedule I drug as it does with marijuana.

The downside is that officials are concerned farmers may grow marijuana within hemp fields because the two are difficult to differentiate, he added.

Ultimately, hemp legislation will allow businesses investing money in medical marijuana  a chance to reduce their costs by adding another product, Clearfield said.

State Department of Health officials have said the medical marijuana program likely won't be up and running until at least 2018.

Farmers are also excited about the prospect of adding another major crop to their fields.

“The production and marketing of hemp could provide another revenue source for Pennsylvania farmers in the future, but we do not look at the growth and sales of hemp as a cure-all to the economic challenges faced by farm families,” Rick Ebert, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president, said in a news release.

— Reach Dispatch business reporter David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid. Like the blog on Facebook at The CannaBiz Kid.