VIENNA, W.Va. — West Virginia hemp seeds are being distributed to approved growers in the state for a research project on the crop.
State officials say it took two years to create rules governing the project. Applicants must pass background checks before being licensed to participate.
The planting of hemp seeds moved forward this year after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have prevented individuals from growing industrial hemp for research projects.
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J. Morgan Leach is executive director of the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative. He told the News and Sentinel in Parkersburg that his father, Jim Leach, and Dave Hawkins are among the members of the cooperative who have been approved by the state to plant hemp seeds in the project.
The state Department of Agriculture recently delivered seeds to Jim Leach, who will plant them on his property in Vienna along the Ohio River. He is interested in the manufacturing prospects for hemp and has a 30- by 90-foot plot for growing three varieties of hemp.
Hawkins, owner of Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg, will plant seeds he receives from the state on a half-acre of his property in Wood County.
Industrial hemp can be used as food, fiber and supplements, said Chris Ferro, chief of staff for state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick. It can also be used for clothing and in building.
Morgan Leach said hemp can be used to make paper, fabrics, rope, cosmetics and plastics.
“Hemp canvas covered the wagons that settled America, and was named the next billion dollar crop by Popular Science Magazine in 1938 before it was officially outlawed,” he said.
The Agriculture Department will test the hemp to ensure the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary intoxicant in marijuana) in the crop are below the federally mandated 0.3 percent.
The hemp looks like marijuana but doesn’t have the same THC component, Ferro said. The state will work with law enforcement officials to let them know where the legally grown hemp is located, he said.
Ferro and Morgan Leach have visited with Department of Agriculture officials in Kentucky where hemp growing is “taking off,” Leach said.
This is believed to be the first time hemp has been planted legally in West Virginia since World War II.
“This is a pretty cool idea,” said Hawkins, saying hemp production is an interesting project for West Virginia as a commodity crop to help the state’s economy.
Morgan Leach said veterans and former coal miners could become involved in hemp production.
Although the hemp focus is now on the research side, the Department of Agriculture wants to assist in future market and product development and the plant being used for remediation of the land, Ferro said.
Ferro said the department hopes the project develops into hemp processing plants opening in West Virginia.