Virginia Tech’s John Fike, the university’s point person for evaluating industrial hemp and its potential to boost economic development in Virginia, sees both challenges and opportunities ahead – as state and federal lawmakers consider changes to hemp regulation.

“The general consensus is that hemp will at the least be another quiver in the arrow of potential crops for producers to grow, but several market features will affect that,” said Fike, an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.  “Entry for each of these potential commodities comes with its own set of challenges.”

Production of industrial hemp was banned in the United States by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.  Even though hemp is of the same species as marijuana – cannabis sativa – it does not contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to create a euphoric effect or high.   

The crop has significant potential for use in a wide variety of applications including food, soap, biodegradable plastics, clothing, textiles, insulation and other construction materials.

Beginning July 1, a new Virginia law creates an expanded licensing system for producing industrial hemp.

“There certainly is a lot of excitement around the crop,” said Fike, “although I do not yet have a clear sense of how broad that is or of how the change in law will affect producers’ feelings.”

Quoting Fike

·         “I would not be surprised to see many producers trying to grow a little hemp, just to see how it will work with their operation and on their farms.  But market uncertainty – that is, can it make a profit? - and other challenges may initially slow the pace of industrial development.”

·         “Hemp will be grown for 3 product markets - feed, fiber, and flowers –and all are potentially valuable. Presently many Virginia farms have the basic infrastructure for fiber production, but the state lacks local processors and markets for the fiber crop.”

·         “We have learned the plant is host to a tremendous number of insects, and my colleagues in Entomology are trying to better understand the potential impact they may have.”

Meanwhile, in Washington the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would designate hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.  Both Virginia’s U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

John Fike’s Bio

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