BY AUDREY JORDAN
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
A large government price tag is to blame for the downfall of a House bill aimed at eliminating restrictions on industrial hemp production in Virginia.
After passing both the House Agriculture Committee and sub-Committee unanimously, Del. Nicholas J. Freitas’ (R-Culpepper) HB 2028 ended up in Appropriations where the bill was tabled.
The administration claimed that removing restrictions on industrial hemp production would make it more difficult to differentiate industrial hemp from marijuana, according to Freitas.
“They put on a price tag that would essentially guarantee that it died– especially when we are dealing with a budget short fall,” Freitas said.
HB 2028 planned to remove the red tape surrounding industrial hemp in Virginia by removing all restrictions on production, including licensing and regulations. Current legislation does allow certain university-funded hemp research projects, but because commercial production of hemp is still illegal, the state must import it.
The Congressional Research Service reported in 2015 that Americans spend more than $580 million on products made from imported hemp every year. It estimates that hemp can be used to create roughly 25,000 different products like fabric, canvas and even automobile parts.
America is also the largest consumer and import market for hemp oil and fiber, according to the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition’s website. The coalition, founded and managed by Jason Amatucci, is a nonprofit organization that aims to restore the free market for industrial hemp.
“Richmond was built on tobacco and people have forgotten that. They’ve lost that connection that we need to produce. Rural America needs to be healthy so that urban American can be healthy,” Amatucci said.
One of the biggest obstacles in establishing the hemp industry is a lack of support from the federal government.
“They’re smoking it in Colorado, Washington, California, Maine and Washington D.C. and the federal government is doing nothing to prevent that, but our farmers can’t even grow it for a fiber use,” Freitas said.
He believes that a combination of unfounded concerns and federal overreach is preventing the state from entering this emerging industry, which could breathe new life into farming communities in southwest Virginia.
“We have communities that are struggling to stay alive and instead of trying to come up with more government programs, here is something we could do that could literally revitalize an entire area of Virginia and we’re not doing it,” Freitas said.
In 2016 Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed two pieces of legislation on the production of industrial hemp, HB 699 and SB 691. These bills required the state to establish a licensing program to allow the production of industrial hemp for lawful purposes, however because of federal law it is still considered illegal. In order for Virginians to legally grow industrial hemp outside of research programs, federal law needs to be changed.
Freitas, although disappointed in the Appropriations Committee’s decision to table HB2028, is confident of the hemp industry’s potential in Virginia and will pursue additional legislation to make it possible.
“We need legislation like this,” Freitas said. “Its not only a product with a whole set of diverse uses, its far more environmentally friendly than other crops that we are currently growing.”