Advocacy group optimistic about hemp act

After spending over four decades classified as a dangerous substance, hemp appears to be on the brink of making a comeback in Virginia.

Since 2012, the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition has been near the forefront of lobbying efforts to bring the once-central commodity back into the state’s good graces. This week, the Virginia General Assembly approved the Hemp Farming Act of 2015, sending it to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

Chase Milner, the coalition’s Shenandoah Valley regional director, on Friday expressed excitement over the passing of the legislation.

“We have just been extremely pleased by the overwhelming support from the General Assembly,” Milner said.

According to Milner, the Shenandoah Valley was “historically the richest hemp growing region in the state of Virginia.”

“We think that, not only was hemp integral for our past, but that it will be integral for our future,” he said.

“We are poised to be a leader in the new domestically produced hemp industry,” he said, adding that the industry has already had an impact on his home state of Kentucky.

“That is the capitol of hemp business; there has been millions of dollars of investments that have been coming into the agriculture sector in Kentucky,” Milner added.

Hemp, which comes from the cannabis plant, can be used in a variety of products, including textiles, fabrics, plastics and paper.

Milner noted that the use of hemp as an agricultural commodity would carry “some major environmental implications.”

“We are going to be able to offset carbon [emissions] and … invest in lighter composite materials for cars,” Milner said. “That’s just some of the 25,000 different uses.”

Milner noted that, because of its various uses and apparent global economic impact, the use of hemp would “have a real effect on Virginia jobs and the Virginia economy.”

Even still, Milner added that there are still a few hurdles in the way of hemp becoming a practice in Virginia.

He explained that the Federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act has to be passed before any growth of the commodity can take full effect.

“Right now, the Virginia act lays the regularity blueprint for how industrial hemp is going to be licensed and cultivated,” Milner said.

If approved by the governor, the Virginia Industrial Hemp Farming Act would allow hemp to be researched and cultivated through state universities, according to an amendment in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill hemp amendment allows for hemp to be grown “for agricultural and research purposes” by entities such state colleges and universities or agricultural departments.

The Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services would be in charge of a licensing program that would afford the legal permission for entities to grow hemp.

Kevin Schmidt, secretary of the board of agriculture and consumer services, said it would allow the agriculture department to issue licenses for industrial hemp for the research programs.

He said there are many aspects of research the Virginia Act could cover, including researching soil impacts and harvesting methods.

Milner noted, “What we are going to see is universities take the first advantage of growing hemp.”

The hope for the coalition, Milner added, is that “universities will be working hand-in-hand with farmers and specifically Shenandoah Valley farmers.”

The next step for Milner and Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition will be to continue its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

Milner said that his organization will be “lobbying hard for Virginia legislators to co-sponsor the Federal Industrial Hemp Farming Act.”

To Milner, “the voting record in the [Virginia General Assembly]” presents a mandate. “We have won over the support of 135 general assembly members.”

“We’re looking to take that same bi-partisanship to the United States Congress,” Milner said, adding the hemp act is “what Virginia wants and what Virginia needs.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com