B y Derek Liebig
The Washington County Board of Supervisors is hoping to a plant a seed in the minds of state and federal officials that would foster the growth of industrial hemp in the agrarian county.
Supervisors on Friday passed a resolution urging state and federal lawmakers to declassify industrial hemp as a controlled substance so that local farmers can grow the fiber.
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, who has been advocating since this fall for the growth of industrial hemp in the county, authored the resolution.
“There has been a falsehood for 75 years that hemp is a drug. It is not,” Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff said. “Why should something be illegal if it does no harm.”
Hemp, a form of cannabis, is considered a controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and is illegal to grow despite the fact that it does not possess the psychoactive properties of marijuana. However, in August, the federal government released a memo announcing it would not pre-empt state laws related to the growth of hemp.
That has paved the way for states to allow and regulate the growth of hemp. Vermont recently passed a law allowing farmers to grow and market the plant.
“Vermont realizes the potential of hemp, and I think New York state should do the same,” Haff said.
Hemp is used in a variety of products, including food, building materials, rope, and paper. Nearly a dozen car manufacturers, including Ford, GM, Porsche and Chrysler, use a mixture of hemp, fiberglass and flax in the production of composite panels in their automobiles.
Haff described hemp as high-value, low-input crop that could easily be grown in the county.
“Hemp is a very good rotational crop that grows well where corn grows. It’s an economically friendly crop,” he said.
Retail sales of hemp products in the United States during 2012 are estimated to be over $500 million, and the substance is grown in Canada, China and Europe.
However, some supervisors questioned how profitable hemp would be in the county.
Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idelman, who was one of four supervisors to vote against the resolution (Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks, Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell and Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe also voted against the resolution; Easton Supervisor John Rymph abstained), said there needed to be a more comprehensive discussion with farmers and potential growers.
“There’s a lot more to consider, like infrastructure and processing. We need to have more discussion with producers,” she said, adding that she may not be against the idea in the future after it had been explored further.
“If we pass this what would the negative consequence be,” Jackson Supervisor Alan Brown asked. “All we are doing is saying this is an option we would like to take further.”
Copies of the resolution, which Haff said is the first of its type passed in New York state, will be sent to a number of state and federal officials including the Attorney General of the United States, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. Betty Little among others.