Hemp in Virginia

state-authorized industrial hemp growing in Augusta County
state-authorized industrial hemp growing in Augusta County
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2018)

The Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 and the Controlled Substances Act blocked farmers from growing hemp. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration in the plant was irrelevant; marijuana growing was banned.1

In 2014, the US Congress authorized state agriculture departments and universities/colleges to grow hemp, so long as the tetrahydrocannabinol concentration did not exceed 0.3 percent. Within Virginia, James Madison University (JMU), University of Virginia (UVA), Virginia State University (VSU), and Virginia Tech (VT) began research programs. In 2018, the state authorized private institutions of higher education to join in the research.

In 2016, the four state-owned universities planted 37 acres in hemp. By 2018, that grew to 135 acres on both privately-owned land and public land. Virginia State University grew marijuana on its Randolph Farm in Chesterfield County. Virginia Tech grew the crop at Kentland Farm in Montgomery County, the Northern Piedmont Center in Orange County, the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Nottoway County, and the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in the City of Suffolk.

The University of Virginia research tested five varieties on farms in Albemarle, Augusta, Fluvanna, Lee, Northampton, Scott, and Wythe counties, plus development of strains that would produce high percentages of cannabidiol (CBD) under greenhouse conditions. Weeds out-competed hemp in many trials, unless a burndown herbicide had been used to prepare the field. Fields planted in July after harvesting hay, without herbicide use, produced a crop of weeds rather than hemp. Growing fields of industrial hemp organically in Virginia will be a challenge.

industrial hemp growing in August 2018, as part of James Madison University research
industrial hemp growing in August 2018, as part of James Madison University research
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2018)

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tested the hemp grown by the universities. In most samples, the plant material had a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration below 0.3 percent. Four samples exceeded the threshold, and in one case the concentration was 1.86 percent.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services got a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration to import hemp seeds from international sources, then supply them to the universities. The Federal agency would not specifically authorize transport of domestically-produced seed across state boundaries, but the Virginia Attorney General assured the universities that their permits would not be jeapardized if domestic seeds were acquired. The official state report in 2018 used careful phrasing to describe how two universities skirted Federal regulations:2

JMU and UVA elected to procure their own industrial hemp planting seed for the 2018 growing season.

existing equipment can be used for hemp production
existing equipment can be used for hemp production
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2018)

Advocates for legalizing marijuana often note the George Washington grew hemp. Mount Vernon acknowledges that, and started growing hemp at the plantation in 2018. Both Montpelier and Mount Vernon partnered with the University of Virginia's industrial hemp research program, which provided the legal authority to cultivate hemp for the education of tourists.

George Washington grew hemp for the fiber, not for smoking to obtain the psychoactive "high" from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In his time, hemp seed oil was also used like linseed oil from flax. Mount Vernon makes clear:3

There is no truth to the statement that George Washington grew marijuana. His hemp crop was strictly the industrial strain needed for the production of rope, thread, canvas, and other industrial applications.


Source: Mount Vernon

The Virginia General Assembly established a program in 2018 that allowed farmers to grow industrial hemp without being associated with a university research program. Registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services made the crop a legal product. The 2018 Industrial Hemp Grower Registrations authorized growing the crop in 55 Virginia jurisdictions, indicating the potential interest in the agricultural community.

The focus was on the fiber in the stalk, and potential use of the oil in the seeds for biodiesel.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services did not permit farmers to grow hemp in order to extract cannabidiol (CBD) and sell it for distribution to those without a state registration. The state was unwilling to allow the growers to produce CBD and supply the stores selling CBD-infused products.4

industrial hemp has a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) below 0.3 percent, too low for users to get high
industrial hemp has a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) below 0.3 percent, too low for users to get "high"
Source: Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, About Hemp

The Virginia Hemp Company sought to recruit hay farmers, getting them to grow hemp instead. The company proposed building the state's first hemp processing plant, in Mount Jackson. The fibers would be used in textiles or pressed into "hempcrete," a substitute for concrete which could be used in building houses.

A farmer in the Shenandoah Valley who had been growing hemp in asociation with James Madison Uiversity research commented:5

We have a long history in the Valley here growing hemp; weíre just trying to bring back a crop... Itís not a new crop, itís just new to this generation.

industrial hemp, 40 days after planting
industrial hemp, 40 days after planting
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2017)

The Federal government policy towards growing hemp also changed in 2018. The US Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances. States were allowed to license farmers who planned to grow hemp, so long as the plant contained less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol.

A product containing cannabinoid derived from licensed hemp growers, and processed consistent with all state and Federal regulations, was no longer classified as a Schedule I substance. It was not criminal for the state-licensed farmer in Botetourt County to grow industrial hemp. It was not criminal for LilyHemp Boutique and Gourmet to process that material and sell CBD-infused products at its store in Vinton and online.6

sale of CBD-infused products derived from industrial hemp growers were legalized in 2018
sale of CBD-infused products derived from industrial hemp growers were legalized in 2018
Source: LilyHemp Boutique and Gourmet, Shop Lilyhemp

The law did not grant a blanket authorization for all products with cannabidiol (CBD). Products made from marijuana provided by unlicensed growers were still illegal, and many CBD-infused products sold in retail outlets remained illegal in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The 2018 Farm Bill permitted hemp growers to buy crop insurance. Processors could ship cannabidiol-infused items through the US Postal Service. Banks and other businesses in the financial services industry could finally loan money to hemp farmers, and could process credit card transactions for purchase of products with cannabidiol.7

Some health claims for cannabidiol products will be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but the hemp market was expected to grow dramatically. As one observer noted:8

Itís a huge deal because itís a domino effect. Banks can get involved now and if banks get involved, then credit card processors get involved ó and if that happens, then big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart get into it... All these big players are going to come in.

As the legal hurdles for growing hemp for fiber were simplified, hay farmers in the Shenandoah Valley were expected to adopt the new crop and create a demand for processing it into final products. Shipping hemp stalks to the closest facility, which in 2019 was in Louisville, Kentucky, was too expensive. The Virginia Hemp Company proposed building the state's first hemp processing plant in Mount Jackson. It was designed to produce fiber for textile and hempcrete.9

Medical Marijuana in Virginia

Links

warm season grasses outcompete hemp, but in 2018 Virginia State University established a good stand in Augusta County
warm season grasses outcompete hemp, but in 2018 Virginia State University established a good stand in Augusta County
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2018)

References

1. "The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer," Brookings, December 14, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ (last checked December 18, 2018)
2. "Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program," Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, December 1, 2018, pp.1-5, https://rga.lis.virginia.gov/Published/2018/RD563/PDF (last checked January 31, 2019)
3. "Did George Washington Grow Hemp?," Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-man-the-myth/george-washington-grew-hemp (last checked January 5, 2019)
4. "Industrial Hemp," Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-hemp.shtml; "Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program," Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, December 1, 2018, p.6, https://rga.lis.virginia.gov/Published/2018/RD563/PDF (last checked January 31, 2019)
5. "Virginia's first hemp processing plant to be in Shenandoah Valley," The Breeze, November 28, 2018, https://www.breezejmu.org/news/virginia-s-first-hemp-processing-plant-to-be-in-shenandoah/article_3061ac32-f352-11e8-8129-c382d2c25dcc.html (last checked December 3, 2018)
6. "Whatever Happened To: Hemp shop gets a storefront and a big push with farm bill's passage," The Roanoke Times, December 21, 2018, https://www.roanoke.com/business/news/roanoke/whatever-happened-to-hemp-shop-gets-a-storefront-and-a/article_cd4685ec-8345-5e6c-9de5-5c79664a0f9c.html (last checked December 25, 2018)
7. "The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer," Brookings, December 14, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/ (last checked December 18, 2018)
8. "With OK from Congress, US hemp market set to boom," Associated Press, December 13, 2018, https://apnews.com/0de07aff0aaa46cbad6c76314d00a3bf (last checked December 14, 2018)
9. "Virginia's first hemp processing plant to be in Shenandoah Valley," The Breeze, James Madison University, November 28, 2018, https://www.breezejmu.org/news/virginia-s-first-hemp-processing-plant-to-be-in-shenandoah/article_3061ac32-f352-11e8-8129-c382d2c25dcc.html (last checked January 31, 2019)

Virginia research focused on using the oil in hemp seeds for biodiesel production
Virginia research focused on using the oil in hemp seeds for biodiesel production
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Annual Report on the Status and Progress of the Industrial Hemp Research Program (2018)


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