A pair of bills allowing commercial hemp farming in Connecticut have cleared their first hurdle, winning unanimous approval from the legislature’s environment committee.
Advocates were emboldened by the move, but acknowledged the measures still have a long way to go.
“Definitely, we feel encouraged,” said Jeff Wentzel, head of the Connecticut Hemp Industry Association, an advocacy group. “This has a good shot, but there’s still going to be some heavy lifting.”
The legislation, which made it out of committee on Friday, would authorize a pilot program for the production and sale of hemp. It also calls for the state’s agriculture department to submit regulations to the federal government for licensing, growing and processing industrial hemp. The agriculture department would be required to come up with regulations for tracking and inspecting farm land.
Hemp is considered a booming industry because the plant, a type of cannabis, produces a non-intoxicating substance known as CBD oil, which is used to treat inflammation, pain and anxiety. Entrepreneurs have incorporated it into lotions, pills, tinctures and candies.
The Connecticut Farm Bureau Association has estimated that an acre of hemp could generate 500 to 1,500 pounds of dried flowers and pull in profits of $37,500 to $150,000.
Bryan Hurlburt, head of the association, hopes farmers can begin planting hemp seeds in early June.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “If we’re looking for ways to stabilize and expand opportunities for Connecticut farmers and for the next generation to be interested in agriculture, we need to have products and crops people are interested in growing and that can be sold.”
Revenue projections tied to hemp have made the plant “a game changer,” he said.
Federal legislation passed in 2014 allowed states to issue hemp-growing permits for research. Last year, a Farm Bill legalized hemp at the federal level.
So far, 43 states have authorized hemp production, including North Carolina, California, New York and Pennsylvania.
In Connecticut, about 200 of the state’s more than 6,000 farmers have expressed an interest in growing hemp, Hurlburt said.
“We want to make sure that we get access to this opportunity just like the other states,” he said. “Supply is outweighed by demand, so there is still room in the marketplace for more hemp to be grown and processed.”
Lawmakers urged swift movement on the bills so state farmers could take advantage of the upcoming growing season, which begins in June.
“Here we have a chance to create an entire industry, but thus far we’ve been falling behind,” said Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, a co-chair of the environment committee. “We will create opportunities for our struggling dairy farmers to utilize their land and save their farms while also enticing budding farmers to join a flourishing market.”
The bill will head to the Senate for a vote.