Hundreds sign up to grow hemp in Virginia

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ROANOKE, Va. (AP/WHSV) — After federal legislation opened the door for the wide-scale cultivation of hemp, hundreds of people in Virginia have signed up to grow the crop.

Wayne Grizzard, owner of Southern Virginia Hemp Company and Virginia Homegrown Botanicals, tends to his hemp plants. Photo by Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service.

The Roanoke Times reports that as of July, more than 800 growers had registered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Elaine Lidholm is director of communications for the department. She says if the farmers plant as they told the department they intend to, there will be more than 8,500 acres (3,439 hectares) of hemp this season.

She says licensees include farmers looking to diversify but also first-time farmers drawn specifically to hemp.

Lawmakers have amended the state’s hemp laws to match the rules in the 2018 federal farm bill passed by Congress. Virginia farmers can now grow hemp for producing cannabidiol, or CBD, a naturally occurring chemical that some say has mental and physical health benefits.

Historically, hemp was one of the earliest grown crops in our area, even planted by George Washington, when fibers from the plant were necessary to create rigging for ships.

Historians estimate that by the mid-18th century, Virginia had 12,000 acres cultivated for hemp. But marijuana and hemp were both banned in the 1930s under the Marihuana Tax Act, and remained that way for years, with hemp classified as a schedule one controlled substance due to its nearly identical genetic structure to marijuana.

However, hemp has far less THC than its psychedelic cousin.

Since the Farm Bill passed, hemp and its derived products are now legal on a federal level once again, and it's booming across the country. Uses for hemp include thousands of products, like rope, oils, clothes, fibers similar to plastic, food and more.

Farmers are working together to collaborate to figure out how to answer some of the questions they have about hemp. The opportunity does allow for farmers to be on a new end of an old industry, one which many hope could be a new cash crop in Virginia.

Local farmers have also told WHSV that the legalization of hemp could benefit the next generation even more.

"We have nephews here on the farm, and I'm hoping that by adding another crop, another way to make money, that it will actually benefit the next generation more than the current generation," farmer Glenn Rodes (who was also part of the JMU hemp research project) said.

Across the mountain in West Virginia, the number of licenses issued to farmers to grow hemp has increased from 46 last year to 158 this year, and acreage for hemp has jumped from 155 acres to 1,532 acres.