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Nelson County Farmer Fights for Industrial Hemp

A local farmer named Jerry Thornton of Nelson county Virginia believes he has a plan that will create tons of jobs in the area, save trees, and preserve precious farmland in the state. The idea is to begin growing industrial hemp that Thornton (founder of Commonwealth Hemp) believes can help residents in starting their own business with this perfect crop at the forefront.

“Farming is kind of dying,” Thornton said. “I’ve been down in Nelson my whole life. This would give people an alternative for income. There are a lot of opportunities in rural spaces to grow. The county is so peaceful. Every time I drive down, I see different landscapes. We want to provide something for farmers and give them a reason to stay.”

An ideal line of thinking considering industrial hemp is cheap to grow, easy to maintain, and will even grow in poor soil. The perfect idea.

With one problem.

Growing industrial hemp is still illegal in the US. At least as of right now it is. There are exceptions in certain states which allow growing hemp for research purposes, but as far as being free to create and maintain your own industrial hemp lot, that still remains to be legalized. Industrial hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.03 percent THC, which is the principal active substance in marijuana.

“Hemp cannot get you high,” Thornton said. “You can’t smoke it. You can try, but it would probably get you really sick.”

Thornton does, however, hope to capitalize on a growing movement to legalize growing the plant. Since the Controlled Substance Act in 1970 declared all cannabis varieties as a controlled substance and completely outlawed hemp, farmers like Thornton haven’t been able to capitalize of their dreams of growing industrial hemp for materials, medicine, job creation, and environment clean-up. In February, the U.S. Senate passed the Farm Bill, which allows states that have legalized the manufacturing of hemp to administer pilot programs with universities for research and education.

“That’s when we started jumping on it,” Thornton said. “We’ve been working on it for a few years, reading regulations, until the government did something. There was nothing to be done until the Farm Bill.”

Now Thornton is working at the state level to try to get the General Assembly to push for the legalization of hemp and begin its own pilot program.

The more people learn about industrial hemp, the more they realize how tremendous the crop’s potential is. The fact that you can one day create an alternative energy from hemp biofuel is an exciting one indeed, and leaves a lot of people shrugging their shoulders as to why this hasn’t been legalized long ago. Or why it was even banned in the first place.

“I have found the community supports it,” Thornton said. “People just don’t know it’s an option. Education is a huge part of this. This is purely for industrial use.”

In 2012, the Hemp Industries Association estimated that the U.S. total retail value of hemp products, which are legal when imported, was nearly $500 million. That’s a lot of money to be had by growing this inexpensive plant, and an increasing amount of farmers are realizing this and starting to fight a little harder. “There are ridiculous amounts of ways to use it,” Thornton stated, and he’s right. Just about everything we use today, including fuels and energy, can one day be replaced by industrial hemp.

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