By Ryan Cornell
One advocacy group is working hard to make it legal for Virginia farmers to grow hemp.
Founded in late 2012, the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition aims to legalize a crop that would not only provide a new sustainable resource in Virginia, but also increase its jobs and revenue.
The Nellysford-based coalition is divided into eight chapters throughout the commonwealth.
Shenandoah Valley Regional Coordinator Chase Milner said that hemp would thrive in the area and would require little investment and zero pesticides.
"Just as the Shenandoah Valley is the breadbasket of Virginia, it could be one of Virginia's finest hemp growing regions," he said.
Despite the coalition's recent formation, he said it's receiving bipartisan support from politicians and interest among local farmers.
He said the coalition's goal is to have legislation submitted at next year's General Assembly and eventually have up to 65,000 acres of hemp grown that could support a processing facility.
Milner said the reason he decided to get involved was seeing how much hemp benefited his home state of Kentucky, noting the international processors looking to relocate and set up their facilities in the bluegrass state.
"I look to my native state and was wondering why we can't do that here," he said. "Virginia has just about the richest hemp history out of any state in the Union."
He said there was a time in Virginia's history between 1763 and 1767 where it was illegal for farmers not to cultivate hemp.
"As the colony grew larger and larger, you could actually pay your taxes with hemp," he said.
The cannabis prohibition era could very well be coming to an end.
The farm bill passed by the House on Wednesday and awaiting approval from the Senate includes an amendment that would change federal law and allow colleges, universities and state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research purposes in the 10 states that hemp cultivation and production is permitted by state law.
Currently, hemp is imported from China, Canada and the United Kingdom for its use in thousands of products, including cooking oil, fiber, biofuel, clothing and food.
Milner said more industrial hemp fiber, seed and oil is exported to the U.S. than any other country.
"Here's an opportunity to seek energy independence through a renewable crop," he said.
And although it might be mistaken for marijuana by the untrained eye, Milner said hemp only contains about 0.3 percent THC.
"Comparing hemp to marijuana is like comparing corn to corn whiskey," he said, adding that the coalition is working with local law enforcement to train them how to identify the different crops.
Milner urged local farmers to speak to their delegates about legalizing the hemp crop. To learn more about the coalition, visit vahemp.org.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org