Erica McBride’s Speech at LVC Town Hall
It’s an honor to be here and thank you Senator Folmer for hosting this educational forum. When it comes to both SB3 and SB50 education is definitely the key. As this education pertains to industrial hemp we’ve found that there are people who are not aware that there is a distinct difference between hemp and marijuana and aren’t aware of all of the many benefits this wonderful plant has to offer. Once the facts are revealed most become very enthusiastic about the great potential of this vital crop.
The one argument we do hear somewhat frequently is that law enforcement would not be able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana and that hemp fields would be used to hide marijuana plants. While on the surface this seemingly is a legitimate concern – it really is only myth.
The reality is that hemp is grown and harvested quite differently from marijuana.
Hemp grown for fiber is planted in narrow row spacing and branching is discouraged. The plants are not allowed to flower. The stems are kept small by the high density and foliage develops only on the top. Hemp plants crowd out weeds and other plants.
Marijuana plants, on the other hand, are spaced widely to encourage branching and the flower is the harvested product.
Where hemp seed is the harvested product, whether as reproduction seed or oilseed, purity is critical to marketability. The mixing of off-type genotypes would be diligently avoided.
Producers of sweet corn go to great lengths to isolate their crops from the pollen of field corn. The same applies to hemp and marijuana. People who grow strains of Cannabis for smoking try to avoid pollination of the flowers. The superior quality material is obtained from seedless plants.
In that light hemp fields would in fact be a deterrent to marijuana growers. A strong case can be made that the best way to deter marijuana grown outdoors would be to grow hemp. An experiment in Russia found that hemp pollen could travel up to 7 miles. This would mean that a hemp field would create a zone with a 7 mile radius within which no illegal marijuana grower would want to establish a crop.
There is another reason that marijuana growers would be unlikely to plant their crop in a hemp field. We would be operating under a permit system whereby the farmer must let the local police know which fields hemp is being planted in. The farmer certainly wouldn’t want to jeopardize their crop or their license. Would a marijuana grower decide to plant their crop in an area high on the police radar screen and subject to monitoring without notice? I seriously doubt it, and if they would be that dumb, oh well, they deserve to get caught. Fear of that unlikely scenario certainly doesn’t justify preventing the introduction of a new crop that holds so much promise for farmers and for Pennsylvania as a whole.
Now lets talk about some of this promise. It’s pretty widely known how nutritious hemp seeds are and its uses for food, fuel, fiber and paper so I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about some of its lesser known uses.
Contamination of land and water is a continuing problem for both our environment and economy. Here in Pennsylvania we have three separate programs within the DEP for dealing with abandoned coal mines, land recycling and brownfields. Hemp can be very useful in dealing with contaminated and otherwise useless land. Conventional practices in remediation usually involve expensive processes such as land filling or incineration of soil. Phytoremediation uses plants to accumulate certain metals in plant biomass to accelerate contaminant breakdown.
Hemp, while not known to be the ‘best’ crop for phytoremediation, does hold a distinct advantage over other crops used for this purpose. Most crops grown on contaminated soil have no value outside the remediation itself, where as the stalks and seeds of hemp are still a useful crop which can be used for building products, paper, insulation, biofuel and other non-food grade products.
Hemp has also been recognized as having a high capacity for phytostabilisation which uses plant structure to stabilize contaminants preventing them from entering the food chain or groundwater.
Pennsylvania’s large amount of land in need of reclamation is a perfect platform to conduct hemp research while improving the soil, environment and economy by returning many acres of land to productive use.
Another use for hemp is as a rotation and cover crop. Industrial hemp is an excellent rotation crop for traditional crops, because it suppresses weeds and decreases outbreaks of insects and diseases. It aids in erosion control and requires little to no irrigation or pesticides. Hemp also rebuilds and conditions soil by replacing organic matter, replenishing nitrogen and providing aeration through its extensive root system.
We are very excited and encouraged to finally have hemp legislation introduced in the senate. We also look forward to having a house bill in the very near future. We hope the legislation will be consistent with SB 50 by allowing individual farmers to participate in the research programs. Other states are doing it.
Kentucky has taken the lead and set the precedence. The Kentucky Fiber Project and Growing Warriors Project are beautiful examples of the way hemp research can be conducted while at the same time helping our veterans and building communities. As SB50 would also allow, Kentucky simply aligned their state legislation and regulations with federal guidelines by authorizing third-parties such as farmers to participate in pilot programs under the authority of the state department of agriculture. This is the best route because without fiscal appropriations, colleges may not have available funding to engage in the study of industrial hemp or its markets. To date, there is no federal funding for hemp research offered to participating colleges or universities. That is why it is essential we allow citizens to become licensed participants.
Allowing third-party licensees will also benefit the state by attracting venture capitalist participation in the development of this new industry.
It is important to understand that our ultimate goal here IS to create an entire industry. An industry that will ultimately benefit every single Pennsylvanian
We often get asked “What can I do to help’? The single most important thing is to contact your legislators. Make them aware of the bill, its benefits and the fact that we already have some business here in PA ready to go – ready to produce hemp seed oil, ready to produce food and other products. This part of the industry will be the easiest to capitalize on as the infrastructure is already in place. Fiber processing, paper making, bio-fuel creation and bio-plastics will take time and research but have great potential for large returns on investment as well as job creation. The economic and environmental benefits could be staggering. So if you work for any company that has any potential of converting some or all of its operations to incorporate hemp, talk to them about it now. Get those wheels turning.
To ensure the reintroduction of hemp to Pennsylvania is successful we also need to create and support the market. While most of us are not farmers and do not own businesses that could benefit from hemp, never underestimate the power of the consumer. We all need to support businesses that support hemp. Visit your local health food store and buy hemp products. Purchase beauty products made with hemp oil. Consider hemp clothing. Any time you do this you are not only supporting hemp, but also in most cases, local small businesses as well.
Do you have a home project you are working on? Ask your builder or contractor if they offer or can use hemp building products. The next time you walk into a Lowes or Home Depot, find the manager and ask them, ‘Hey, where is the hemp insulation? Where is the hemp fiber board and hempcrete?” While they obviously do not currently offer it, hearing interest from their customers goes a long way and is very important.
In other words, just talk about it to everyone you can. Some will be persuaded by the ‘green’ aspect and environmental benefits alone. Others will be driven by the bottom line. But no matter which aspect is more appealing to them there are strong arguments of how utilizing hemp will benefit them.
We have such a long, rich history of utilizing this amazing plant here in Pennsylvania. We anxiously await its return. Working together we can ensure hemp will prosper and help promote the health of our land as well as create a better more prosperous Pennsylvania for all.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.”
Industrial hemp provides the perfect opportunity to put this statement into action. It provides a perfect opportunity to be both bold and responsible. We hear an awful lot of talk about the need for job creation, the need for alternative fuels and the need for sustainability. Hemp provides a clear path to all of those ends. It’s time to stop talking about it and start returning the heritage of our past and turning it into hope of the future.