Photo courtesy of iStock/Jessica Hyde

A brand-new association aims to revitalize Connecticut’s rural economy with hemp, a crop now allowed to be grown under federal law that had been previously prohibited in the United States for more than 70 years. To fully legalize cultivation, the state needs to pass legislation allowing for the growing of hemp and submit an enforcement plan to the USDA. That process is underway.

“The reason it is called the Connecticut Hemp Industry Association is that we are trying to support an industry in Connecticut that includes farmers, extractors, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retail stores and more,” says Jeff Wentzel, a founder and board member of the association. “The key is to revive rural economies and really help the agricultural industry in the state. Hemp can be a huge boon to Connecticut.”

The Connecticut Hemp Industry Association formally launched in February 2019, following the legalization of hemp production in the 2018 Farm Bill. The permitting and licensing of hemp production is the association’s top priority in 2019. The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than .3 percent on a dry weight basis.

Before 2019, the precursor to the association included a group of volunteer advocates who lobbied for hemp’s place in Connecticut agriculture. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed for legal hemp production for research purposes only, an opportunity Connecticut never adopted. However, the federal legalization of industrial hemp production, signed into law in December 2018, may give the state’s farmers a potential new market that needs organized support, once changes to state law have been enacted.

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“Hemp offers a real opportunity for farmers to diversify,” Wentzel says, “and there is a real need for this association. Farmers are desperate for information.”

More than 100 farmers already have contacted the Connecticut Hemp Industry Association with interest in growing hemp. Wentzel predicts farmers can make $30,000 to $100,000 per acre growing the crop. He says the highest demand for hemp comes from the cannabidiol (CBD) market, which uses the oil to make consumer products taken for pain, inflammation and anxiety.

Among its initiatives, the Connecticut Hemp Industry Association plans to educate
and inform the public about hemp’s health, environmental and economic benefits. The organization also intends to help shape the regulatory environment that impacts the crop’s safe use and economic viability in Connecticut.

“It’s still a very young industry,” Wentzel says. “Our association plans to work collaboratively with the industry, government officials and the scientific community to create standards and regulations that make sense and to ensure that the products people are making from it are safe and effective.”

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