Hemp will be grown commercially in Pennsylvania this year for the first time in generations.
The state Ag Department announced Tuesday that it had submitted its plan for regulating the crop to USDA, becoming only the second state do so.
Hemp growers will have to get state permits, but their acreage of the crop will be unlimited.
“Pennsylvania’s story is shaped by agriculture and the products that help grow the commonwealth, and industrial hemp presents an exciting new chapter in that story,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
December’s Farm Bill paved the way for commercial growing nationwide by removing hemp from the list of controlled substances.
The crop landed on the list decades ago because it’s closely related to marijuana, even though hemp contains too little of the chemical THC to induce a high.
Hemp’s fiber affords many industrial uses, while the seeds and oil can be used in food and other products.
Hemp research was already allowed thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill and the state’s Industrial Hemp Research Act.
The Ag Department approved 84 research applications on Tuesday, but it will now reopen the 2019 sign-up to include commercial applications.
Commercial legalization is great news for farmers, said Erica Stark, executive director of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.
“This will give the ability for people to co-op, and, you know, consolidate. I’m thinking particularly Lancaster County, like the Plain Sect communities that may not each individually want to get their own permit. They can work together,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Pennsylvania’s quick response to the Farm Bill could also show manufacturers that the state is serious about being part of the hemp industry.
“I think we’ll see significant investment in infrastructure, now that the supply chain is there to support it,” Stark said.
At the Pennsylvania Farm Show earlier this month, Stark talked to many farmers who were disappointed that they had missed the application deadline for hemp permits.
Now that the state is reopening the permitting process, she is encouraging those farmers to contact the Ag Department.
Pennsylvania’s plan will make hemp subject to the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, which was created in 2017.
With the committee’s approval, hemp will become a controlled plant, which will require all growers to register and obtain permits through the department.
The permit will include all information required by federal law and will allow punishment for violations.
Research applicants had originally been capped at 100 acres of hemp, but there will be no acreage caps for research or commercial growers under the new rules.
The application fee will also be lowered from $2,000 to $600, and growers will be able to operate at up to five locations under one permit.
Additional growing locations can be added for a fee.
Hemp will be tested to ensure its THC content falls below the legal limit of 0.3 percent.
Ramping up the state’s testing capacity will now be key to growers’ success, said Jessie Johnson, a permitted hemp grower in Elk County.