Pa. becomes second state to submit plan for commercial hemp growth

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Hemp fiber in a 1994 file image. (Geraldine Wilkins/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has submitted a plan to the federal government for the commercial growth of hemp — making the state only the second to do so.

Department Secretary Russell Redding on Tuesday, Jan. 22, announced the state's move, which was made possible by the 2018 Farm Bill that President Donald Trump signed into law last month.

If approved, the plan would officially re-introduce the material derived from the cannabis plant into the state's economy. Growing hemp was previously limited to entities supported by the state's Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.

More:Wyndridge Farm partnering with Albright College to grow and research hemp

More:Could the 2018 Farm Bill restore York County's hemp heritage?

The farm bill provided $867 billion in relief for farmers and legalized the industrial growth and cultivation of hemp nationwide, giving states the opportunity to expand beyond such pilot programs. Kentucky is the only other state that has taken the offer thus far.

“Pennsylvania’s story is shaped by agriculture and the products that help grow the commonwealth, and industrial hemp presents an exciting new chapter in that story,” Redding said. "... The plan that we have submitted to (the) USDA certifies our commitment to creating the conditions for Pennsylvanians to grow a profitable, sustainable and in-demand product."

The plan will classify industrial hemp as a controlled plant, which will require all growers to register and obtain permits through the state department. Such measures are overseen by the state's Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee.

Hemp has historically been used for up to 25,000 different commercial products, including textiles, furniture, automobiles, food and beverages and more, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

Although derived from the marijuana plant, hemp contains minuscule amounts — less than 0.3 percent — of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive drug that gives users a high. 

Hemp was a lucrative industry in the state until wool and tobacco gained popularity, but in 1907 Hanover helped revitalize its commercial viability, mostly producing hemp for the Hanover Cordage Co.

However, it was still targeted just three decades later in 1937, when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which made it nearly impossible to grow industrial hemp by slapping excessive taxes on marijuana and later criminalizing both in totality.

Along with the state's plan, the department also announced it would be reopening its research pilot program with updated guidelines so entities can continue to research the material.

The program was created in 2017 after Gov. Tom Wolf passed the Industrial Hemp Research Act the year before. Such programs were made possible by the 2014 Omnibus Farm Bill passed by Congress.

The department has lifted the previous 60-application cap on growers and researchers, and it alreadyhas approved 84 permits for 2019. Once finalized, more applicants will be welcomed.

The updated program also removes the 100-acre cap for those who grow the material.

Through such pilots alone, in 2017 the nationwide retail value of hemp sales was estimated to be $820 million, according to Vote Hemp, one of the largest hemp advocacy groups in the country.

Dallastown's Wyndridge Farm is one of the entities permitted to grow hemp. The business announced last month it would be doing so for Albright College in Berks County, which will be studying the material.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.