Grass No, Hemp Yes! New VA Law Signed

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Two years of trade-dispute induced tariffs have decimated Virginia’s tobacco farmers, the president of Virginia’s Board for Agriculture and Consumer Services told his fellow board members Thursday.  As he spoke Governor Ralph Northam was upstairs in the same building preparing to sign legislation the industry hopes provides a path forward for those same farmers.

Hemp.  Industrial Hemp.  Not for smoking but for squeezing out the oil.

Robert J. Mills of Pittsylvania County is already in the business of growing hemp, some of which he says is being grown to meet organic standards for the state of California.   The production schedule for hemp is like tobacco’s, he said, it works well in the same soils, and tobacco curing barns can be used to dry the product.

“Sometimes when things sound too good to be true, they aren’t true,” Mills told the board.  But clearly, he has high hopes.  Those in the industry now have faced extremely high start-up costs (he said $20,000 per acre) and have operated without crop insurance or other protections.   The changing law may make this a mainstream cash crop, but it will still be regulated.

The 2018 Farm Bill at the federal level liberalized the rules on hemp production and sales, and the legislation Northam signed Thursday brings Virginia’s rules in line.  The companion bills, Senate Bill 1692 and House Bill 1839, both had emergency clauses, so the law is now in effect.  

The law lays the groundwork for production of the oil from hemp in Virginia under state supervision, as well.  It legalizes dealing in hemp by parties who are not the producers.

To qualify as industrial hemp the crop must test below 0.3 percent THC content, the intoxicant in the cannabis sativa plant.  The THC content in marijuana for consumption is about ten percent, but any plant with THC above the limit is treated as marijuana under the law.   CBD from hemp is not under the same restrictions as CBD from marijuana.  Any other product from hemp is also out from under the old legal cloud.

Virginia Tech has been doing research and promoting the product through its extension service. An industry advocacy group was easy to find but is not registered to lobby at the General Assembly.  It is (of course) run out of Nelson County.

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