Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Unraveling Hemp: The Road to Legalization Part Three

By Keleigh Gibbs

Industrial hemp is most commonly confused with marijuana. The biggest difference is industrial hemp does not have the psychoactive component of the marijuana that creates a "high". 

After being made illegal almost a century ago, legislation is now moving through the state capitol that would once again make the crop legal to grow in Pennsylvania. Geoff Whaling is an industrial hemp activist. He says he's seeing widespread support from local political leaders, as well as law enforcement officials, to reintroduce the crop to Pennsylvania. "I've told them they could smoke it, as I told them they could smoke Sycamore leaves or Maple leaves," Whaling said. "There is no psychoactive element in the industrial hemp crop." 

Once there is an understanding of that difference, Whaling says he doesn't typically meet any additional opposition to once again legalizing the crop in Pennsylvania. We made our own calls to political leaders and law enforcement officials in the Lehigh Valley and beyond, and also did not receive any opposition to the proposed legislation to reintroduce the crop to the state. 

"We are the only importing nation in the world, largest importing nation in the world, that does not grow the crop," Whaling said. It is for that reason, Whaling also says he believes the potential for hemp is enormous in Pennsylvania, especially since the state has a history of leading the nation in hemp production before it was made illegal. 

Industrial hemp is currently being used in multiple forms with over $600 million dollars worth of the crop flooding into the United States primarily from Canada and China. The uses range from hemp fibers used to make twine, cordage, textiles, and caulking to hemp hurds that can be made into paper as well as plastic composites for items like skate boards and auto bodies. 

Oil extracted from the plant used in printing, lubrication, and paints. In addition, the seed is considered a super food that contains protein, potassium, calcium and essential fatty acids, good for strengthening the immune system. 

"Most people don't know that the fiber from the industrial hemp crop has the same properties as copper," Whaling said. "Although they are not yet there, it can carry the same sort of digital messaging that they are doing in fiber optics." Whaling says these examples and others make legalizing hemp an exciting prospect for the state and for our area in particular. 

"I think we can quickly ramp up industry here in the Lehigh Valley," Whaling said. Whaling says, in order to do that, infrastructure in the state needs to be created to accelerate the return of the industrial hemp. 

"We will be looking to have a regionally located processing facility that will be within 60 miles of all of the contracted farmers that will be growing industrial hemp," Whaling said. "I am keenly interested in the Heinz-Kraft facility; it is one million square feet." 

But first the crop needs to be legalized in the state. Right now, that is Whaling's number one priority. Currently, he is leading that charge on the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, a group looking to accelerate the return of the crop to Pennsylvania. 

"Our goal is to have a crop in the ground by this spring," Whaling said. Thursday at 6p.m. part four of our series Industrial Hemp: The Road to Legalization, will take an in-depth look at the status of legislation now moving though the state capitol.

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