A Bridgewater shop will be the county’s first exclusive seller of hemp-based products, and local farmers are excited about the now-legal plant’s future potential.
President Donald Trump’s signing of the Farm Bill in December made hemp legal in all 50 states, taking its oversight from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and giving it to the Department of Agriculture.
Experts agree the move poises the cannabidiol (CBD) industry – which took root under gray areas in the 2014 Farm Bill – to explode. Your CBD Store, which will open next month on Bridge Street, will carry two product lines.
However, local farmers will need to be patient with their planning, officials warn.
National, state and local officials and farmers alike expressed enthusiasm about hemp to BeaverCountian.com. “Huge potential,” state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-47, New Sewickley Township, described it.
“There’s a great deal of use for hemp,” said Henry Karki, president of the Beaver-Lawrence Farm Bureau. “It’s another product we can produce and maybe make some money off of.”
The plant can be used in many ways: in textiles and clothing, automobiles, insulation, paper products, construction materials, plastics, culinary oil and body care products to name just a few. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a pen made with hemp at the signing.
Hemp even greatly enriches the land as crops are rotated, said Geoff Whaling, chairman of the National Hemp Association and president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.
But hemp previously was grouped with marijuana as a narcotic and had been largely illegal for 80 years. Its market pipeline was totally dismantled.
“One of the challenges is there is not a supply chain in place,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for the state Department of Agriculture. “Anywhere you have an 80-year (gap in production), you don’t have the infrastructure.”
Vogel, also a farmer and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, warned, “It’s going to take a couple of years for (this) to get up and going.”
Hemp and marijuana are not the same
The difference between hemp and marijuana is commonly misunderstood, and they’re often mistaken as the same thing. The confusion is furthered by the fact that hemp has been legalized at the same time that states are legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.
Simply put, hemp can’t give you a buzz.
Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of Cannabis sativa plants. They look similar and both have the psychotropic chemical THC. But hemp has 0.3 percent of it, whereas marijuana has between 5 and 35 percent of the chemical.
But the federal government outlawed the use of both beginning in the ‘30s. Prior to that, hemp was cultivated for thousands of years.
The 2014 Farm Bill allowed it to be grown for research purposes, which led to various state interpretations of what was allowed. Pennsylvania allowed limited growth permits for the last two years, Powers said.
This is how interest has grown: The state Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Research Pilot Program granted 33 permits last year to hemp growers, who had a 100-acre planting limit.
So far this year, the department has granted 84 permits filed before the new law, and is accepting more applications. There is now no limit to the number of permits issued, the amount grown, or the acreage planted.
Law requires its THC concentration be less than 0.3 percent. Pennsylvania will conduct random testing of permit holders and plants testing higher than the allowed 0.3 percent will be destroyed.
Another benefit to the legalization is that banking services also can now be involved. Before, many refused financial and credit card applications. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, all transactions are done with cash.
CBD oil is leading the way
Perhaps the most recognized hemp product is cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which has appeared on some market shelves.
Again, there are different types of CBD oil. Those with medical marijuana cards can purchase CBD oil made from marijuana at dispensaries.
But CBD oil made from hemp – with and without the low 0.3 percent concentration – is also available to those without a card. Whaling said CBD products account for 2 percent of hemp crop production, but 98 percent of its revenue.
Although not FDA-approved, it is touted as a treatment for ailments such as epilepsy, skin problems, insomnia, inflammation, joint pain and anxiety.
Your CBD Store in Bridgewater will be the county’s first exclusive CBD seller.
Opening at 300 Bridge St. on March 2, the store is owned by Melanie Vaughan of Patterson Township and Joe Gradwell and Leigha Peters, both of Brighton Township.
The franchise will be the fourth to open in the state. Gradwell is friends with the owners of the Gibsonia store, which has been open for a few weeks. He said business has been brisk.
Gradwell and Vaughan said they both became aware of the benefits of CBD through personal experiences.
Vaughan’s teenage son suffered from insomnia following a sports-related spine injury. Her research led her to discover hemp-derived CBD.
“I started realizing it was a possibility of getting my teenager help without getting him high,” she said. “The oil helped him with sleep and got him off the Ambien.”
Similarly, Gradwell began treating his own insomnia. He takes 250 mg orally daily, and not only did his insomnia improve, he noticed the arthritis pain in his feet also dissipated.
Whaling said he takes 4,000 mg a day and has experienced serious relief from a neck problem. When he travels abroad without it, he said inflammation reappears within a day.
“Anecdotally, I’m a believer,” Whaling said. “We really need to prove this out and we can get to do so now since we approved the Farm Bill.”
Because it’s not FDA approved, the quality of products found in various stores could widely vary, Vaughan said.
Vaughan said the hemp used in the products the Bridgewater store will carry is grown in Colorado, tested in labs and packaged in Florida. She said the entire plant is used. “It matters how it’s made and what it is,” Vaughan said.
Consumers can choose from pain-relieving creams, anti-anxiety capsules or solubles for your dog’s anxiety, among others.
Gradwell and Vaughan said another difference with the exclusive store will be that of experience and knowledge of its sole product. Consumers can learn about the two lines of CBD oil from store consultants who can recommend uses and dosages.
The store also will provide free samples so consumers can try the products, Vaughan said. “Basically, the best way to determine how it’s going to affect you is to try it,” she said.
Farmers, start small
Whaling said he could compare a cannabis crop to a corn crop. There is feed corn and sweet corn, he said. Similarly, there is hemp and marijuana. He struggles to explain the difference all the time, he said.
Hemp is planted and harvested like corn, he said. “But hemp is going to have better value than corn or soybeans. The reality is it is far more beneficial for crops planted after it.”
Hemp puts nitrogen back into the soil, it aerates it and removes toxins. Farmers will see an increase in the production of any crop planted after it, Whaling said.
His advice to farmers considering it is to think of hemp as they would any product market. How much can you make; do your research; know the challenges of harvesting plants up to 16 feet tall.
“We are saying to people, if you’re interested in developing it, start small.”
Challenges for farmers also include the need for combines able to harvest the tough material, Whaling said.
A 2018 Congressional Research Service report reviewed by BeaverCountian.com revealed there are no official estimates of the value of hemp retail sales in the U.S.
But the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) reported an estimated $700 million in U.S. hemp-related sales in 2016. In 2017, the HIA reported that nearly two-thirds of the value of all U.S. hemp imports were of hemp seeds, used mostly as an ingredient for hemp-based products.
Canada is by far the largest importer to the U.S., supplying about 90 percent of the value of annual imports, according to the report. The report also noted that “more recent available market reports indicate that the estimated gross value of hemp production per acre is about $21,000 from seeds and $12,500 from stalks.
Word is, one farmer in Lawrence County has filed so far this year for a hemp growing permit, Karki said. Powers said no Beaver County farmers have filed for a permit yet.
Karki said farmers statewide, of which there are 1,500 member families in the local bureau, strongly supported the bill. “It could be a cash crop that could be beneficial to us. We’re very happy with President Trump and what he’s done for agriculture.
“We need another source of cash. … There were a lot of things in that Farm Bill that we were happy with.”
Hookstown beef farmer David McElhaney said he’s heard the same excitement and interest from county farmers, but they have the same concerns about the harvesting combines and then the seeming lack of infrastructure and what comes next.
Processing facilities will need to be built, industries will need to be recruited. Perhaps the best way to start is by using the crop for animal feed, Vogel said.
Perhaps the state might provide future grants as things develop, Vogel added. “We’ll need to wait for the rest of the industry to catch up with it. I think it will obviously benefit a lot of people.
“It has a huge upside to it.”
Whaling said his groups have a vision of centrally located industrial parks with research components. Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. last month committed $100-150 million toward establishing such a park in New York.
Whaling hopes it’s just the beginning.
“We truly are pioneers,” he said. “This is a modern era version of what it must have been like to be a pioneer 200 years ago.”
More information for the state hemp growing program can be found at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s website.