Abell Foundation Report: Maryland Missing Out On Economic Benefits Of Hemp

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A report commissioned by the Abell Foundation argues Maryland could see economic benefits, as have been seen in other states, if it legalizes the commercial growing of hemp.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that lacks the psychoactive ingredients that create a “high” feeling. It can be used as a fiber, or in insulation, animal bedding, food, fuel and medicine. Since 2015, several states have gotten on board with the legalization of hemp as an agricultural commodity. The number of state commercially growing hemp has grown from four to 19 over three years. And hemp product sales in the United States exceeded $688 million in 2016.

Commercial hemp has not been legalized in Maryland. The new Abell report argues it ought to be. The report comes as a bill to establish an industrial hemp pilot program is being considered in the General Assembly this session.

Authored by environmental journalist Rona Kobell, the report highlights the growth of hemp industries across the U.S. and in other countries over the last few years, and discusses lessons Maryland could learn. The report follows up on another document authored by Kobell last year that explored the history of the plant and laid out the potential agricultural, environmental and entrepreneurial benefits of a legal hemp industry.

The report points to examples in Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia, where states are utilizing hemp to fill the gap as growth and sales of other agricultural staples, like tobacco and potatoes, have declined in recent years. It also details agricultural benefits of hemp growing: hemp makes a good cover crop to protect and enrich soil, and it is grown pesticide-free.

Kobell notes a hemp industry could also create new jobs and eco-friendly products ranging from materials to replace insulation and plastics, to heart-healthy foods. Her report concludes that “Maryland and Baltimore can catch up quickly, if they can find the political will to legalize the plant.”

The General Assembly bill, sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo of Montgomery County, calls on the state to authorize and facilitate research around industrial hemp and all aspects of growing, cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, transporting, marketing or selling the plant for agricultural and commercial purposes. A specific site would be used to grow and cultivate hemp during the pilot.

Advocates and experts will discuss the findings of Kobell’s report and Del. Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill at a forum on Feb. 2 in Annapolis. The two will be joined at the forum by additional speakers including Maryland farmers interested in growing hemp, scientists and business owners, and Erica McBride, executive director of the National Hemp Association.