Pennsylvania Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill into Law

A bill that allows Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Department and institutions of higher education to grow industrial hemp for research was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that authorizes Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Department and institutions of higher education to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes, Fox 43 News reports.

Sponsored by Pennsylvania Representative Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), House Bill 967, now Act 92 of 2016, allows colleges, universities, agencies, and individuals that are properly registered with the state to legally cultivate industrial hemp, either by themselves or through independent contractors.

“This is a great day for Pennsylvania farmers and our state’s economy,” Diamond said in a press release. “Industrial hemp is safely grown worldwide and used in a wide variety of consumer products, from automobile dashboards to clothing. It is not a drug and does not produce a high. Rather, it is an environmentally friendly, durable fiber with high profit margins.”

The new law also establishes a Hemp Research Board, which will be responsible for regulating and managing the program. The board will handle applications for registration, inspections, a registered persons database, registration fees, and labeling and testing guidelines.

Pennsylvania’s leading crop throughout the 18th and 19th centuries was industrial hemp, cultivated primarily for its beneficial fibers, which can be processed into food, dietary supplements, medicine, clothing, textiles, and building materials. Hemp is of the same species as marijuana, but contains little to trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that creates a high. In the 1930s, however, hemp was unjustly lumped with marijuana and made illegal to grow. President Obama signed the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, giving states the go-ahead to establish hemp pilot programs to grow the crop for agricultural or academic research. A year later, the bipartisan-supported Industrial Hemp Farming Act passed to allow cultivation for commercial purposes. Since then, at least 28 states have industrial hemp laws in place, and according to a recent report from Hemp Industries Association and market research firm SPINS, the U.S. industrial hemp industry was estimated to be $573 million in 2015.

“Industrial hemp was once was an important part of the agricultural economy of Pennsylvania, and it is destined to become so again now that the feds have recognized their error and begun easing restrictions on its cultivation,” Diamond added.

Once an agricultural staple for Pennsylvania and the U.S., hemp has the potential of being the country’s next big industry. Gov. Wolf hopes that allowing hemp cultivation will eventually mean a significant boost to his state’s economy.

“William Penn himself was an advocate of hemp growth, and in 1683, one of the first laws passed by the General Assembly in Pennsylvania was a law to encourage every farmer to grow hemp,” said Governor Wolf. “The U.S. industrial hemp industry has been estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and is still growing. Supporting this industry in Pennsylvania is a smart investment in the commonwealth’s economy.”

It was just three months ago that Pennsylvania legalized cannabis for medical use. Gov. Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 3, which made Pennsylvania the 24th state to adopt comprehensive medical marijuana legislation.