RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It used to be big business here in Virginia, but for decades hemp farming has been illegal, classified as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA.
While it looks like marijuana and is related, its THC levels — the chemical that makes you high — are significantly lower.
“It is (listed) right there with heroin and LSD; it needs to be dropped from that. This is not a psychoactive plant,” Graham Redfern said with the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition.
Redfern has been working to get hemp farming legalized in Virginia and says they’ve made some progress. A bill passed by the General Assembly last year allowed for the research of hemp.
Virginia Tech, JMU and VSU planted the first seeds in nearly 70 years last spring, and the crops were harvested last month. The project’s aim is to see the economic possibilities for the plant.
“Many things we interact with on a day to day basis, from our cars, cosmetics, dietary supplements, typically will have some form of hemp product in it,” Delegate Joseph Yost said.
Yost sponsored the researching bill along with another measure that would legalize hemp in Virginia eventually.
“Our main hurdle and the biggest problem we face right now is at the federal level,” Yost said.
State lawmakers have legalized hemp, but only if the federal government removes it as a schedule 1 drug.
“It’s great that we have it in the ground, but it’s not enough,” Redfern said.
Redfern says like states that have legalized marijuana, Virginia shouldn’t wait on the federal government in regards to hemp, saying it’s costing the state.
“This is a cash crop. Half a billion plus dollars were imported in last year alone from other countries,” Redfern said.
Redfern and lawmakers agree the plant could be an economic boon to the commonwealth.
“Looking at hemp as a suitable replacement for the tobacco industry where it has sort of died out over the last several decades,” Yost explained.
“Our farmers really need this as an alternative, and we’re focused on getting it to them,” Redfern said.
There is a bill in congress that would remove hemp as a schedule 1 drug. State lawmakers say if that happens, Virginia is ready to go with hemp farming.
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