Virginia universities researching uses for hemp

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Three universities in Virginia are conducting research on industrial hemp after the state legalized cultivation of the crop for research purposes two years ago.

Hemp growing at an undisclosed location in the Shenandoah Valley

The Roanoke Times reports that Virginia Tech, James Madison University and Virginia State University are researching different uses for the crop, which is the same species of cannabis plant as marijuana.

WHSV has previously reported that the largest industrial hemp field, at ten acres, is maintained by JMU researchers in the Shenandoah Valley.

The General Assembly passed a law legalizing hemp cultivation for research reasons in 2015.

Researchers say that growing the crop using conventional methods would be more affordable for farmers.

"We're hoping, particularly, farmers who may have been involved in something like tobacco farming and are looking for alternatives, this may be a way to save small family farms, give them a healthy crop alternative," said Michael Renfroe, a biology professor at JMU involved with the study.

He says hemp could replace tobacco as a new cash crop to sustain the state.

Industrialized hemp is categorized with marijuana as a schedule one controlled substance, but differs in that it has a lower level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Hemp can be used in food, to make oil, and even make clothes, so Renfroe hopes new knowledge can help lift some heavy regulations for industrial production.

Tech is growing 18 different varieties of Hemp and has plans to research hemp-enforced concrete and using hemp fibers in car parts.

Hemp is not allowed to be commercially grown in the United States at this time, but a number of politicians have expressed support for revising regulations on it, including Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who told WHSV last year, "There are many legitimate uses for industrial hemp, which is why I supported a provision to ensure entities like the Virginia state government and James Madison University have the ability to conduct research on industrial hemp without fear of violating federal law."