Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis, but one is for wearing and one — if you are of age and so inclined — can be smoked or ingested.
For decades, hemp, which looks similar to marijuana and has long been harvested for industrial use, has gotten a bad rap. Hemp doesn't produce high levels of the chemical THC, the ingredient that brings on the "high" one gets from marijuana. But hemp is a crop that farmers here and abroad know is good for producing rope, clothing, paper, construction materials, biofuels and plastic composites.
Hemp was legalized in 2016 when pot was OK'd for recreational use. But potential hemp farmers were somewhat hindered until this week, when the Massachusetts House voted 152-0 to allow farmers who had agricultural deed restrictions on their land to grow hemp. More importantly, the vote also qualifies hemp farmers for the property tax breaks enjoyed by growers of other crops.
State Rep. David Rogers, a Cambridge Democrat, brought concerns about hemp cultivation to Speaker Robert DeLeo's attention and educated him about this multipurpose crop. That led to the House bill, sponsored by Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and its passage this week. After the vote, Rogers told State House News Service, "It should be a big boost to farmers, to jobs, to the economy."
Pignatelli, who represents a mostly rural area in western Massachusetts, sees the bill's passage as a boon to farmers in his area who might be able to capitalize on the growing demand for hemp nationwide.
"This bill will provide our local farmer equal footing in the new economy," Pignatelli told the news service.
Hemp can also be used to produce CBD, a material said to have therapeutic benefits but not the euphoria of its distant relative, marijuana, though for now, the state Department of Agricultural Resources and the Department of Public Health prohibit the sale of any product containing CBD oils derived from hemp.
Rogers said he'll be looking at those guidelines and didn't rule out further action to open up the market for more hemp-based products.
"There's a possibility in the future that the House will address, if need be, the new restrictions on CBD oil," he said.
Time will tell whether farmers on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley will see hemp as the new — and legal — cash crop.