County supervisors this afternoon will hear a report on the history of industrial hemp and the potential impacts of legalizing the crop.
Industrial hemp has long been caught up in blanket bans of the plant, Cannabis sativa, aimed at its cousin Cannabis sativa indica, or marijuana. But industrial hemp has vanishingly low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a high. Activists have tried for years to get the state and federal government to draw a distinction between the different strains
Loudoun economic development officials have pointed to the crop as potentially a boon for area farmers. People working with hemp under the law allowing it to be grown for study purposes report the plant grows quickly, replenishes the soil in ways similar to other rotation crops like soy, needs less fertilizer and water, and can be sold at a good price for a variety of uses. Currently, it can only be grown in Virginia through programs at universities or the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors requested information about hemp production—and any legislative hurdles that stand in the way—in the spring.
A county staff report that will be presented to the supervisors at its regular meeting this afternoon voices support for industrial hemp production in the county and lists several uses for hemp, including uses in textiles, industrial products, paper, building materials, foods, supplements, technical products such as ink and varnishes, and personal hygiene products. Industrial hemp is described as “generally understood to be an adaptable, low maintenance crop that is viable across a range of growing condition.”
“Pending regulatory changes, the Department of Economic Development considers that the opening of industrial hemp production in Loudoun County could have a significant impact on the rural economy by giving Loudoun County farmers the opportunity to diversify with a new crop that, depending on what the plant is grown for, is similar to other traditional commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, or barley,” the county report reads.
The report also goes into several areas of concern about industrial hemp—such as using hemp crops to hide marijuana plants. It cites a paper from the Congressional Research Service, pointing out differences in the plants and states, “using hemp as a cover for marijuana is detrimental to both crops through undesirable cross-pollination; hemp will dilute the THC content in marijuana, and vis versa, likely rendering the hemp with a higher than desirable THC content, thereby making it illegal.”
The crop remains illegal under federal law except for research purposes. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has said “the proactive monitoring of industrial hemp growers and processors will be difficult and dependent on the number of approved registrations.”
In 2014, Congress passed legislation that defined hemp as containing very low THC, beginning to separate it from marijuana in federal law. Another federal bill, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, co-sponsored a Democrat and two Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been in committee for months.