Four months after passing hemp legislation in July, Pennsylvania released application materials for its pilot program.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for its industrial hemp research pilot program, PennLive reports.
Under the program’s guidelines, a maximum of 30 projects will be selected for the 2017 season. For now, the state Department of Agriculture will approve only products or uses that would use hemp fiber or seed for industrial purposes.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 967 in July 2016 to legalize the growing, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp by registered individuals, as well as agencies, colleges, and universities for research purposes. The bill also created the Hemp Research Board, which is tasked with overlooking the program.
“This is a great step forward in bringing back industrial hemp production to the economy of Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, prime sponsor of House Bill 967, in a statement. “Research and development is always the best first step in any business, and I applaud Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and the department for getting the ball rolling.”
Used to produce nutritional supplements, food, fibers, textiles, construction and insulation materials, body care products, and paper, Hemp was at one point a staple crop of American agriculture. In the 1930s, hemp and its cannabis family member marijuana were made illegal, despite that hemp is non-psychoactive.
President Obama then signed the 2014 Farm Bill, giving states the opportunity to allow the cultivation of industrial hemp for limited purposes. Since then, at least 30 states have passed legislation related to industrial hemp.
“Industrial hemp has a rich history in Pennsylvania, and we believe there is a great deal of opportunity for growers, processors and other businesses that make a range of products from automobiles, paper and textiles to a range of food and beverage products,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a statement.
The research projects approved by Pennsylvania’s Hemp Research Board will examine best climate areas and soil types for growing hemp, and will look into the viability of the greatest uses for the crop.
“Industrial hemp certainly is not a new crop, but we believe it has the potential to become a very attractive part of Pennsylvania’s future,” added Redding.
Applications must be submitted by January 6, 2017, and applicants that are tentatively approved for research projects will be notified by February 17. Interested applicants will be expected to pay a $3,000 fee to cover administrative costs and project review before the Hemp Research Board will issue research permits.
While the state’s hemp program is a positive step forward, some advocates voiced displeasure at what they argue is an overly restrictive program. In addition to what many consider as a high fee, advocates are disappointed that the program doesn’t allow for the production of hemp oil for medical purposes.
“This is not what we expected this program to be,” Erica McBride, leader of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, told Pennsylvania news outlet Reading Eagle Company. “This program is absolutely worthless. It does not help farmers. It is not going to help the industry.”
State Sen. Judy Schwank, a hemp law advocate, was also concerned with the fee, which she believes will prevent farmers and higher education institutions from participating.
“Since we started a lot further behind the other states, I was hoping our program was going to be a lot more aggressive,” said Schwank. “Certainly, I’m going to be following up. I want to understand how we came to this place and what can be done to change it.”
The farming candidates who are approved to grow and research hemp will work closely with the state’s Agriculture Department. Seeds will be shipped from other countries to the department and held there until it’s time for growers to plant the seeds in spring.