Connecticut farmers want to grow hemp, now legalized

December 20, 2018

A committee of Connecticut farmers and agriculture experts are asking Governor-elect Ned Lamont to help them start growing hemp, now that a new federal Farm Bill legalizes cultivation.

“Diversification is going to save Connecticut agriculture,” said Kevin Sullivan, a Suffield farmer and past president of the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association. “This could be a key ingredient.”

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill on Thursday afternoon, which among numerous provisions, legalizes hemp production.

Hemp could open new markets to Connecticut’s $532 million farm industry — the 4th smallest in the nation — but the state must craft a regulation and enforcement plan and submit it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before farmers can start growing the plant. Hemp is a form of cannabis with lower THC levels than marijuana.

The Connecticut legislature would need to authorize the state to create its hemp plan, said Jason Bowsza, chief of staff to the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture. The Department is developing a bill for the General Assembly to vote on in 2019.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for production ag(riculture) in Connecticut,” said Bowza. “We’ve been working on this now aggressively for the last six months... there is a tremendous demand from people who are in production agriculture.”

Supporting hemp cultivation in Connecticut was a top ask of a 15-member agriculture group that presented their recommendations to the Lamont transition team on Wednesday afternoon. Passing regulations and funding infrastructure, like gas lines, to support large-scale greenhouses to extend the growing season are needed, their oral and written reports said.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Lieutenant Governor-elect Susan Bysiewicz told the committee.

Hemp can be used to make clothes, food, pharmaceuticals and building products. Cannabinoids derived from hemp, grown under Farm Bill regulations, are also legal, allowing farmers to produce the compounds which can be used for pain management, anxiety and other uses.

Some cannabis market researchers predict the young industry could reach $20 billion in four years.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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