ITHACA, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - Legislators, farmers and researchers met at Cornell University on Tuesday to discuss both the benefits and challenges of industrial hemp farming in New York State.
Though it's still illegal under federal law, New York State gave four higher education institutions permits for pilot programs to research hemp farming last year. On Tuesday New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced that six more pilot program permits will be given to private institutions.
In 2013 the Hemp Industries Association estimated products sold in the U.S. generated nearly $600 million, that number expected to rise to nearly $700 million in 2017.
Experts said hemp by-products have anywhere from 25-50,000 uses.
"The primary ones that are important to us are oil based products that are very highly nutritious, fiber-based products that can create lovely textiles and possible medicinal uses that have been showing promises for some really difficult diseases," Dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Kathryn Boor said.
Senator Tom O'Mara of Big Flats is a strong proponent of industrial hemp farming. He said it's a great economic opportunity for the area.
"Agriculturally of course growing it, but we certainly want to be able to build on the industry, industrial uses, the manufacturing of these products here in New York," he said. "It could be a win-win across the state but hopefully particularly here in the Southern Tier."
But because it's within the cannabis family the Drug Enforcement Administration considers hemp a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Although it contains less than .3 percent of THC, the chemical compound found in marijuana that creates a high.
Consequently obtaining the hemp seeds themselves can pose a challenge.
"You need an import permit to get seeds outside of the state or outside of the country rather," panelist and partner at JD farms Dan Dolgin said. "But if your getting seeds from a domestic supply it has to have gone through the ground."
Another challenge? No herbicides, pesticides or fungicides have been approved for use on hemp in New York yet.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said she believes the event will help normalize hemp as an industrial crop.
"I think this summit will go a long way towards breaking down people's stereotypes of what we're talking about here," Hochul said.
Cornell University received an additional $400,000 from the state to continue their research on which strains of hemp are most resistant to disease, and what soil conditions are most conducive to plant growth.
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