B y Dan King

Dana Haff Headshot 2015

Dana Haff

Long a proponent of industrial hemp, Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff says he is optimistic about the future of the crop.

New York State released its final regulations for a hemp pilot program last month and will issue 10 licenses to universities to grow and research the crop. A press release from the State Legislature says that Cornell University and Morrisville State College have already expressed interest in receiving licenses for the pilot program.

“Since the Federal Government opened the door for states to begin researching industrial hemp, we have been waiting to get the licensing operation going,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, the bill’s sponsor, in a press release. “This is the first of many steps we’ll be taking to develop this new and highly lucrative new crop.”

Haff said he is hoping this can be the first step toward a fully legal hemp industry in New York.

“I’m very interested in industrial hemp,” he said. “Maybe these are the first steps of removing the restrictions on people growing it.”

The bill to start the process of legalizing industrial hemp in the Empire State was passed in June of 2014 by the State Legislature. The legislation only allows for a pilot program, which is designed to allow the licensed researchers to work with local farmers to “study methods for growth, harvesting, storage, transportation and marketing of the crop.”

Haff has said on several occasions that he feels hemp is a highly durable, environmentally friendly crop that can serve many purposes. He also has pointed out that the crop has a positive impact on the soil it uses, making it more fertile for other plants as well.

Hemp rope, protein, clothes, upholstery and paper are among the crop’s popular usages.

Those who are opposed to legalizing industrial hemp often argue that because it comes from the same plant (cannabis sativa) as marijuana, it should not be legalized.

Haff said he doesn’t buy that argument, because hemp has such a low level of THC, the primary psychoactive in marijuana – less than 1 percent.

He said using that argument against hemp doesn’t work, because, “If that were the case people would be lining up at the hardware store to smoke rope.”

At the same time the state passed the original industrial hemp bill, the federal government passed a farm bill that allows states to begin to run pilot programs for industrial hemp.

The issue blocking full legalization of hemp cultivation is the fact that all varieties of cannabis are currently considered Category I drugs under federal Drug Enforcement Agency regulations. It is illegal to grow hemp without a DEA permit.

“All you need to do to see the benefits of legal hemp is look at Canada,” Haff said, pointing out that country has fully legalized the cultivation of the crop.
Hartford Councilman Bob Dillon also noted that Vermont is using a pilot program that he called “successful.”

Prior to 1937, when the federal government passed its first laws regarding cannabis, hemp was a popular cash crop, especially in southern states. Kentucky has implemented a pilot program similar to that of Vermont, and many of the state’s representatives, including Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell and Rep. Thomas Massie, have been outspoken in their support of the crop.

Haff was the most vocal voice at the Washington County level pushing for a medical marijuana-growing facility in the town of Jackson. He cited Washington County’s low tax revenue as a reason to bring that business to the county.

However, the former mushroom-growing plant in Jackson was not awarded one of the state’s licenses for growing medical marijuana. A horse farm in Chestertown received the license.

Haff said he hopes that one day, when the restrictions are peeled further back, the hemp industry could come to Washington County, bringing agricultural jobs.

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