Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unraveling Hemp: The Road to Legalization Part One

By Keleigh Gibbs
Source: wfmz.com

Joshua Leidhecker farms the land in Williamsport Pennsylvania. He uses the oil he makes in his mill as fuel to power his machinery. "I was on a canoe trip with a friend of mine, and he asked me if we could cook a turkey in the fuel that I made for my tractor," Leidhecker said. 

And they did. Joshua is now hoping to work with Adam Thompson, a small business owner in Pennsylvania, who is already processing a sunflower and hemp oil blend. Adam connected with Joshua to substitute the hemp oil he is buying from Canada with hemp oil grown and processed locally by Joshua. "It will help our bottom line dramatically, it will at least cut our costs in half," Thompson said. 

Joshua has one of the only mills in the state with presses small enough to efficiently process hemp seeds, that's because his mill was already making canola oil, processing roughly the same size seed. "In typical industry oil processing there is usually a crush plant that only crushes, they do not refine," Leidhecker said. But Joshua has the capability to refine. 

He also says he sees incredible opportunity with hemp, a crop rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. "We have a ready made market, ready made processor, ready made ground, ready made product," Leidhecker said. "We just switch it from buying it from Canada to making it ourselves." 

Almost a century ago, Pennsylvania was leading the nation in industrial hemp production. Pennsylvania is now one of the largest importers of hemp from Canada in the U.S., after the crop was made illegal nearly a century ago. 

The Hemp Industry Association reports that total retail value of hemp products nationwide now is estimated at over $600 Million in 2014, with uses that range from food to body care products to clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products. While the crop is not yet legal to grow in Pennsylvania, legislation has been proposed that would authorize farmers like Joshua to grow hemp under a pilot program focusing on research of the crop. 

Under the national Farm Bill signed into law in 2014, industrial hemp is defined as distinct from marijuana, opening the door for states to authorize research under higher education institutions. Even if the state legislation to allow hemp to be grown in Pennsylvania is passed, the Federal Farm bill would require a lag period before the crop could be sold commercially, it also limits the amount of hemp that can be grown. 

But legalizing hemp in the Pennsylvania would inch the state closer to one day becoming a commercial supplier. "Our dollars are leaving to go to Canada I think we have a ready made market for those products," Leidhecker said. "We need to lift prohibition on a crop that really doesn't need to be illegal." 

Tuesday night at 6 p.m. we will take an in-depth look at the history of the industrial hemp crop in Pennsylvania.


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