Maryland could have a whole new farming sector on its hands if it legalizes hemp, a sibling crop to marijuana that lacks its psychoactive properties but has bountiful industrial potential, according to a new report from the Abell Foundation.
Among hemp’s uses before it was banned by a tax statute in 1937, and later added to the federal government’s list of banned Schedule I substances in 1970: fibers were used to make paper, rope for boats and fabric for textiles; its oil was used in paints and creams and for cooking; its seeds were used as food for birds, livestock and humans, among other uses. Today’s farmers are also growing it for its CBD oil, an extract that serves as something of a foil to THC, found in weed, and is used to treat pain, inflammation, seizure disorders, nausea and anxiety.
Now it’s time for Maryland to join other states in accepting hemp as a useful crop and bucking unfounded misconceptions, write Rona Kobell and Alexey Furman for the Abell Foundation. “Maryland would be an ideal location for a hemp industry,” they said in the conclusion of a report published Tuesday.
Despite the fact that hemp remains a Schedule I banned substance at the federal level, a growing number of states are allowing farmers to grow the crop and are loosening state-level restrictions on it. Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Colorado offer prime examples of places where a hemp industry is taking root. Maryland actually has allowed growing of industrial hemp “under certain circumstances,” but hasn’t established any agricultural industry for it, according to the report.
The Baltimore area would be a prime location for a “hemp capital,” the authors wrote, thanks to its available workforce, cheap warehouse spaces, proximity to the interstate and its international airport. Maryland farmers could grow the plant for industrial purposes, and use it as a pesticide-free cover crop or a buffer crop to absorb runoff before it can flow to the Chesapeake Bay, reducing nitrogen pollution.
Formidable obstacles remain, however, to legalizing a Schedule I substances under the federal government’s watchful eye. Assistant Attorney General Craig Nielsen told Kobell state law “has to be consistent with federal law,” and that current state law only OKs growing of hemp in a university research setting. “We do what the legislature says we can do.”
Montgomery County Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo has championed the cause for the last few years, though his proposals to legalize growing, processing, selling and shipping of hemp haven’t gained enough support to move through the General Assembly.
Fraser-Hidalgo has proposed a bill in the current session that would establish a pilot program to “authorize and facilitate the research of industrial hemp” and all of the aforementioned aspects of running an industry. Last year, state agriculture officials argued for a similar bill that they would have needed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lab to test any hemp for THC to verify they weren’t actually growing marijuana; Fraser-Hidalgo found an existing lab that could do it for much cheaper, but “he ran out of time to make his case, and the bill died,” the Abell Foundation report says.
His bill is due for a first reading today in the House of Delegates’ Environment and Transportation Committee.
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