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Schumer In Columbia County: Call To Relax Hemp Laws

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer visited a farm in Columbia County today. The Democrat is promoting a bill that would declassify hemp as a Schedule I narcotic. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was at Old Mud Creek Farm in Hudson for the announcement.

Schumer says the U.S. is one of the largest importers of hemp products in the world, and the time for New York and other states to get into the industrial hemp business is now.   "Hemp has the potential... we're looking... our farmers are looking for new crops that work, that can make money and do good. Hemp is the key."

The Democrat says the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would correct a "mistake" the federal government made long ago when it labeled hemp as a controlled substance.

If Schumer has his way, states will be the principal regulators and researchers will be able to apply for USDA grants to improve the product. Schumer believes that communities across upstate are "on the verge of a hemp explosion."  "Old Mud Creek Farm was granted one of the very few original licenses from the state to grow and research hemp as part of the new hemp agricultural pilot program. Now we have 118 farms in New York state, 17 of which are in the Capital Region and the Upper Hudson Valley."

Schumer told reporters at the 2,400-acre farm that industrial hemp, a variety of cannabis without the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, is used in a wide range of products.  "People don't realize what a versatile plant it is. It's in our grocery stores. It's in cosmetics. It's in food, oil, fabric for clothing, even in concrete, making a stronger, lighter concrete."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Ben Dobson, manager of Old Mud Creek Farm in Hudson, NY

Growers say every part of the hemp plant has an industrial use. 

Standing before before a field of hemp was Ben Dobson, who manages Old Mud Creek Farm.  "This is a multi-use hemp, it's high in Cannabidiol CBD, we use the grain of it and we use the fiber of it too. As you see on this table here these are hemp starts and next to it we have grain, a stalk, and fiber with broken up hurd underneath, which are the main base outputs of the hemp plant."

Dobson says hemp and marijuana are not the same. 

"The main difference is THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol, and THC is what makes people high when they smoke marijuana. And hemp has less than .3 percent THC, so a negligible amount that cannot get people high." 

THC content varies widely among marijuana strains: some varieties can contain up to 25 percent. 

David Goldstein, head cultivator at Hudson Hemp, explains the process from seed to harvest.   "We start in a greenhouse, usually at the end of March, and transplant come, well, mid-June. Yeah, so right about now we're phasing out of our transplant stage."

Dave Lucas:  "So the plants that were at the podium, they were ready for transplant?"

"Those were ready for transplant, correct."

Dave Lucas: "And then how long will it be before the crop is ready to harvest?"

"It's a full 90 days, so we're planting in the middle of June, July, August, middle of September, end of September is when we actually start harvesting."

Schumer thinks hemp has massive potential.    "Industrial hemp in my opinion, is an oyster with a pearl of opportunities that could mean millions of dollars in economic revenue and support jobs in Columbia, Greene and Rensselaer Counties in particular. So it's time for Congress to fix this outdated law. We're gonna make a final push to get it done. And that will give people like Ben the freedom to do many more good things for this county and for our state and country."

Peter Paden, executive director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, says the county boasts 100,000 acres of good farmland, a vital part of its economy and culture that could get a big boost by adding hemp.  "Removing the irrational restriction on growing the product, which has obviously got an enormous number of important commercial and health uses, only makes sense and is long overdue and is terrific that Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell and others have come together around that idea. It's a really important idea. It will open up a lot of markets and potential for farming here and elsewhere."

Schumer says the bill has a high likelihood of passing the House and being signed by President Trump.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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