In a 386-47 vote, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill and in turn, removed hemp from the Schedule I list of controlled substances on Tuesday.
The $867 billion legislation could further boost the upward-trending industry for the state to grow a crop with more than 25,000 uses from clothing to construction and pharmaceuticals.
Several local farms such as Old Mud Creek in Hudson and FarmOn! Foundation in Copake have taken advantage of the opportunity to grow and research hemp through New York’s Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program that began in 2015.
Tessa Edick, founder of FarmOn! Foundation, is excited about what the farm bill has in store for the agricultural community.
“It’s a very exciting day for farmers,” she said Thursday. The legalization of hemp and the vision of Gov. Cuomo allow us to share our learning with local farmers and lift up livelihoods.”
Edick hopes to see hemp farms on the rise, she said.
“It will return farming to a noble and respected profession,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with local farmers to share our learning and opportunities.”
Local elected officials voiced their support for the farm bill.
“With the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 officially part of the 2018 Farm Bill, upstate New York farmers will soon be able to grow a new cash crop with great potential to boost revenue and incomes,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “Industrial hemp farming is an oyster with a pearl of opportunities that could mean millions in economic revenue while also helping to support new jobs across upstate New York. Industrial hemp can be used to make everything from paper, to clothing, to plastics, which is why I fought so hard to fix our outdated hemp laws and pass this critical legislation that will allow farmers to reap the benefits of industrial hemp without onerous and outdated federal restrictions.”
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, also supported the bill.
“Since joining the Agriculture Committee in January 2017, it has been a priority to construct a Farm Bill that helps reverse the troubling economic headwinds farmers have faced the past five years,” Faso said in a statement Wednesday. “This bill is the result of thousands of hours of farm visits, discussions with producers, and negotiations amongst members of the Committee and the Senate. I am proud of the bill we’ve produced and the bipartisan manner in which we came to this agreement. The bill includes changes to help upstate dairy farmers, improves the nutrition title to put people on a path toward self-sufficiency, and strengthens incentives and protections for important upstate agriculture industries such as specialty crops and organics.”
State Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, called on the state to do everything it can to support the agricultural community.
“We do to everything we can do strengthen the farming community,” he said. “It is the No. 1 industry in New York. We have to allow the expansion of different products, crops, livestock and alternatives for farmers to survive and thrive. Hemp is a product that is developing into a viable agricultural crop.”
Passage of the bill will further the production that farms like Edick’s began.
“New York is in the top five states growing,” state Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball said in July.
Benjamin Dobson, owner of Old Mud Creek Farm, said he would expand his operation if the bill passed when interviewed in July.
“We will feel free to invest further in hemp,” Dobson said. “We would grow an additional 100 acres and make it one of our key economic focuses. We have found a hemp company to pursue the private side of production.”
There are no hemp farms in Greene County at this time.
Chellie Apa, retail and greenhouse manager of Black Horse Farms in Athens, found the seeds to be too costly, she said.
“The seeds are expensive — about $1 each,” Apa said in July, adding that her family farm will remained focused on vegetables and flowers.
The return costs justify the setup costs, Ball said in July, adding that a farmer can make $400 to $500 an acre for fiber production.
Greene County may be less suited for hemp production because it is more wooded, Edick said in July.
“There are large amounts of flat in Columbia County that have historically been used for corn, soy and grain,” she said. “It’s easier to get started when you just have to till, not clear.”
The farm bill’s next stop will be the Oval Office for President Donald Trump to sign into law.
Cuomo has publicly stated that his office is working on drafting legislation to legalize recreational marijuana.
“I support [it],” Cuomo said at an event in Buffalo on Nov. 20. “The state did a report saying legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana, the benefits outweigh the risks. We now have a working group that is putting together a piece of legislation that would do it because the devil is in the details. How do you do it, where do you do it, what are the ages, etc., what is New Jersey doing, what has Massachusetts done? You don’t want people crossing borders because the laws are different. So that legislation is being crafted. I expect it to be introduced next year. The when and the how, we’re not clear about.”
Amedore opposes legalization of recreational marijuana.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” Amedore said. “There are other ways for the state to generate more revenue without legalizing marijuana.”
The legalization would go against the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis and help those suffering from addiction, Amedore said.
“It goes against what we’ve been trying to do,” he said. “The legislation doesn’t make sense. It’s hypocritical.”
Legalizing marijuana would also cost the state more in social service programs and result in more traffic incidents, Amedore said.
“It will cost the taxpayers more money, it’s not healthy and it’s not safe,” Amedore said.
Amedore supports medical marijuana, he said.
Catskill Police Chief Dave Darling did not have a strong opinion on the matter.
“We enforce whatever the law is,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on it.”
Hudson Police Chief Edward Moore declined to comment.