Cash crop: High hopes for industrial hemp

Sam Chick, owner of the smoke and vape shop Puffster in Dover, showcases hemp flowers grown in Colorado. Although growing hemp for agricultural and academic research is currently permitted under federal law, new legislative initiatives may lift restrictions and allow hemp’s cultivation for a wide variety of uses. Delaware officials want the state to be ready to cash in. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

DOVER — When Sam Chick, owner of the smoke and vape shop “Puffster” in Dover, decided to stock hemp flowers, he had them shipped in from Colorado and Washington.

If he had his way, he’d rather grow the plants himself or buy them from local farmers.

With the Aug. 28 signing of Senate Bill 266 — which clears the path toward the cultivation of industrial hemp — Mr. Chick may soon get his wish.

“It’d be a great opportunity for local retailers and farmers,” said Mr. Chick. “Getting good flowers like the ones we just got in, even during the harvest, is actually pretty hard. Demand still outpaces supply right now.”

Although growing hemp for agricultural and academic research is currently permitted under federal law, new legislation is currently being negotiated that may lift restrictions and allow cultivation for a wider variety of uses.

By passing SB 266, Delaware is positioned to immediately take advantage of federal deregulation, said Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Marshallton, the bill’s primary sponsor.

Anthony Delcollo

“In the federal farm bill, there is an authorization that permits hemp to be grown as a crop in the U.S., but that doesn’t automatically mean there is the necessary regulatory structure or designation for those crops within a given state’s laws so they can be ready to open the gates and let the race begin once the federal bill is passed,” said Sen. Delcollo.

“Right now, the federal farm bill has substantial bipartisan support and Congress is hammering out the final details in committee. I haven’t seen or heard anything to make me believe the passed bill won’t contain the authorizations we’re hoping for, but this measure we’ve passed at the state level postures us to immediately take advantage of the new changes.”

The language of the new deregulation specifies that it’s only valid “if and when” federal restrictions are repealed.

Hemp, not to be confused with marijuana, has a wide range of uses including as fibers, textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, cosmetic products, animal feed, food and beverages.

Although hemp and marijuana are both varieties of cannabis sativa — one of the three main subtypes of the cannabis plant — hemp has a much lower amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes the intoxication.

Puffster, nearing its year anniversary, mostly sells hemp-derived Cannabidiol (CBD) products, says Mr. Chick. Embraced by users for its alleged medicinal value, CBD is thought to be effective in treating anxiety, seizures related to epilepsy, chronic pain and several other maladies.

Mr. Chick thinks that locally produced hemp might enable him to more easily obtain it and at lower costs for his customers.

One more option

The Department of Agriculture hopes permission to cultivate industrial hemp will give the state’s farmers one more option when it comes to planning what crops they’ll grow.

“We have supported the academic and agricultural research of industrial hemp here in Delaware,” said Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse.

“By anticipating the passage of federal legislation to legalize the production of industrial hemp with the signing of this bill, Delaware farmers will be one step closer to having another crop to help diversify their farming operations.”

Legislators clearly have high hopes for the deregulation as well. SB 266 received unanimous support in the state House with the exception of a single “no” vote in the House cast by Rep. Earl Jaques, a Glasgow Democrat.

‘Big fan of jobs’

“I’m a big fan of jobs and improving Delaware’s commerce and supporting our homegrown — no pun intended — industries,” said Sen. Delcollo.

“It seemed like creating this opportunity would make for a lot of potential in multiple sectors given Delaware’s strengths in the agricultural realm.

“Bills like this, that are just good ideas that can be clearly identified to be helpful to our state and its people, have a way of ending up with a lot of bipartisan support. There were also a fair amount of advocates, like Sam Chick, that stepped forward to get this done.”

For his part, Mr. Delcollo hopes to see significant uptake in a number of different industries in the state once federal restrictions are lifted on hemp cultivation.

“I’d love to see farmers grow hemp so that we can become a producer and exporter,” he said. “I’m also hopeful that the availability of locally produced hemp will encourage those in the research and development fields to look at new uses for and the types of things that can be achieved through various biotech or pharmaceutical endeavors, which is another strength of our state.

“It’d be great to see hemp products that are locally grown and sort of put into the market directly here in Delaware, whether that be as cosmetics, building materials or CBD products.”

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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