More than 300 farms across the commonwealth have been approved to grow industrial hemp this year, a ten-fold increase from last year.
Last December, the federal government relaxed regulations on the crop, allowing it to be grown for commercial sale. Prior to that, states had the option of implementing hemp growing programs, but only for research purposes.
Hemp can be processed into a wide variety of products, including building materials, clothing and cooking oil.
It’s also a source of CBD, a compound in cannabis that doesn’t get you high, but is believed by some to have healing properties. While research on CBD is limited, it’s become increasingly popular as a homeopathic remedy for anxiety, pain and other ailments.
That’s part of the reason Jake Kristophel decided to apply for a permit to grow hemp on his farm in Lawrence County.
“I use CBD all the time, both of my parents use CBD, I’ve always been really into herbal medicine … and CBD is such an amazing thing,” he said. “The hemp plant in general has so many uses, it’s just such an amazing plant.”
Hemp is a variety of cannabis that is low in THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
“It’s like different varieties of any other plant, like sweet corn and field corn,” said Sarah Pickle with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
To be defined as hemp, the plants must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. Anything over that is legally defined as marijuana, Pickle said.
Anyone who applied for a permit to grow industrial hemp was awarded one, as long as they had a valid address and passed an FBI background check, said Pickle. Even though getting a permit to grow hemp is relatively easy, the state will still be keeping a close eye on growers.
“[The department notifies] the state police in the area that we’re growing hemp here and [the department has] the freedom to come on to the property and check all of our plants, to test them,” said Kristophel. “I think basically to make sure we’re not growing marijuana.”