Grass No, Hemp Yes! New VA Law Signed

Source: Purdue University

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.

The state law on hemp amended by these bills previously allowed hemp production only for research purposes, but that’s “out the window now,” reported VDACS Director of Policy Kevin Schmidt.  “We really are talking about full commercialization now.”  He explained some of the more intricate elements of the new bill, which allows a crop to slip above that 0.3 percent target to as high at 0.6 percent on some tests without the farmer being put out of business. It must be by accident.

If anybody is growing a crop with too much THC and is doing so with a “culpable mental state greater than negligence,” that person will lose their license and be reported to law enforcement.  That phrase may be new to the Code of Virginia.

Later this year Virginia will apply to the US Department of Agriculture to have the licensing and enforcement authority delegated to it, Schmidt said.  The race is on across the country.

The department is so excited about the bill that Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring came to make an unscheduled appearance before the board, touting the accomplishment before she went upstairs in the Patrick Henry Building to the signing ceremony.  She promised a more public (but totally ceremonial) signing for the bills later.

There wasn’t much splash about the issue during the session, and Mills indicated that was by design, with the pharmaceutical industry possibly stalking (pun intended) the bill to extinguish competition from Virginia farmers.  All the focus was on the fight over unsuccessful marijuana legalization.

Schmidt described an even more broad bill, House Bill 2256, ending state registration of any medical product containing any part of the cannabis plant, and this isn’t just hemp.  Those products, however, would be intended only for animals.  Northam signed that one March 8.  Are the pets in your neighborhood more mellow? Getting into your snack cabinet?  Got a veterinarian in your neighborhood?

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20 responses to “Grass No, Hemp Yes! New VA Law Signed

  1. I know a farmer and he said you bust the whole crop if its over 3%, so screw it. There’s also the constant overwatch, not worth it.

  2. He needs to read this new bill. Still tight but more leeway, they said.

  3. Does this have the potential to become a big crop in Va – like tobacco once was.. or corn or soybeans?

    • Plenty of people think so. Me, I’d wait until some medical authority published actual research that it does any good. Right now it is all testimonials and wishful thinking, little data. In a January RTD story I found after writing the advocates were talking of “saving farms” but I also note that many other states are rushing in, too. (As of 6:30 am the state computer system is not yet noting that Northam signed the bills, despite everybody yesterday saying he was doing just that….)

      Here is what FDA said in December: https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressAnnouncements/ucm628988.htm

  4. Not easy to understand the logic if the idea is that use of the product is still illegal………. why allow it to be grown?

    odd ….

    • One species of this plant has lot of THC–that is what produces the “mellow” feeling. Another species is low in THC. As long as the THC content of whatever is grown is 0.3 percent or less, it is legal. The fiber of the plant itself has been said to be useful for paper and fabrics. The compound CBD (non-addictive, non high-producing) produced by the plant is legal and is being touted as being able to relieve chronic pain and inflammation, as well as just about any other condition known to afflict humans.

  5. Oh, I’m all for it. I don’t consider it to be much different than beer and if it helps rural Va – it helps Va!

    We need to approach the needs of rural Va – on a rural perspective and not try to do economic development that is really not suited to their assets – land and open space.

    And not the least of is retirement communities – if people escaping from the madhouse of urban like NoVa – if those folks like “rural” but they also want their amenities – that’s an area where the state CAN help – with infrastructure and development of those things!

  6. What about marijuana itself? that could be a great tobacco substitute for Virginia farmers. I always knew the switchgrass for biofuel was wishful thinking.

  7. Don’t you mean “Purdue” University?

  8. There is still some confusion in the comments about the differences between hemp and marijuana. They are different varieties of the same species cannabis sativa. The graphic at the top of the post shows the significant differences. To be legal, hemp can contain no more than 0.3% THC. if you try and smoke hemp, all you get is a headache.

    The recent U.S. farm bill removed hemp from the Schedule 1 drug list. It is no longer illegal according to federal law, although marijuana still is.

    This has allowed Virginia to revise the restrictive regulations that previously existed regarding growing and using hemp in the state.

    In the 1930s, a magazine article touted hemp as the next billion-dollar crop. Unfortunately, all of the hemp seeds that were adapted to our climate stored in the US seed bank were removed and left to rot.

    It has been legal to grow hemp in Canada for a number of years. They have developed the harvesting and processing infrastructure that is missing in the U.S.

    As Dick Hall-Sizemore noted, hemp provides many valuable products. Its seeds are highly nutritious, as is its oil. The very valuable medicinal compound CBD can be extracted from hemp, although it occurs in higher concentrations in marijuana.

    Hemp contains the longest natural fiber of any plant. It can be used for clothing, carpets, building materials, etc. Its inner core is a very high quality cellulose that was used by DuPont for making a variety of products including explosives.

    DuPont was the major shareholder in General Motors when Henry Ford developed a car with body panels made from hemp that were much stronger, but lighter than steel. The prototype was powered by vegetable oil. DuPont, worked with Mellon and Hearst to get hemp outlawed so that Hearst’s timber interests (for paper for his newspapers) were not threatened by the superior hemp paper.

    DuPont wanted to work with a few oil barons to make plastics using patents stolen from German manufacturers during WWI, instead of dealing with thousands of Kentucky hemp farmers.

    Hemp has had a central role in some of the world’s major events. Napoleon invaded Russia to destroy their hemp crop. There was more Russian hemp in sails and cordage in British ships than English timber.

    There are countless products that we can make from hemp, but it will take some time and a good deal of investment. Hemp raw materials are bulky and expensive to transport. The opportunity is to create a variety of regional businesses to process and manufacture the finished products that can then be transported less expensively.

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  10. Pingback: Grass No, Hemp Yes! New VA Law Signed | TheTHCReport

  11. My most widely-read piece to date, according to the WordPress stats. And it was a throw-away from a meeting where I was tending to my final client on another matter….Gotta agree with Rippert’s basic premise that a failure to loosen the criminal penalties on marijuana (which ain’t hemp) was a lost electoral opportunity. But there are 20 other reasons to expect another Democratic wave in November.

    And an interesting insight to the process. As of this morning, the legislature’s computer still does not report these main bills as being signed, but Informed Sources tell me that indeed happened late Thursday morning.

  12. Interesting discussion. I remember learning that early settlers in Virginia, up through and including Thomas Jefferson, attempted to promote the raising of hemp to harvest the raw fiber, to be made into ropes especially for naval vessels. Consider that the Colonies were also Britain’s source of naval timber, masts, etc. at the time; naval hemp production would have been right at home. Apparently there were places in Virginia where the old hemp stands had been cultivated where you could find the wild hemp plants still growing as late as the mid-20th century, where a new generation found it opportune to grow the smoke-able kind in disguise, so to speak. I wonder if readers here know where some of that “old-growth” hemp can be found these days; it might suggest where in the State the agricultural conditions for growing it are most favorable.

  13. It is often called ditchweed. Kentucky was the largest producer of hemp in the 20th century. Since Virginia is on a similar latitude as Kentucky, conditions should be favorable here too.

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