CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt is looking forward to the possible growth of the industrial hemp market in the state.

Leonhardt appeared on MetroNews “Talkline” last week and said the Farm Bill passed was great news.

Kent Leonhardt

“Hemp production has a bright future in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “The president did give West Virginia a nice Christmas present with the Farm Bill. Not only does it have the hemp, but it’s also got specialty crops in there that we use to help bring up maple syrup production in the state of West Virginia. It has some great conservation provisions in there, it is a great bill.”

President Donald Trump signed the new federal Farm Bill into action on December 20, which includes a provision that removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

Leonhardt said there have been close to 200 applicants from farmers in the state that want to join in on growing the industrial hemp. He said there are plenty of uses for hemp in West Virginia and the United States.

“There’s obviously the CBD oil, the fiber, and there are folks that will tell you, you can use every part of a plant,” he said. “They even use it in making rope, clothing, somewhere around the neighborhood of .25,000 different products that can be used.

“This is not only good for agriculture in West Virginia but good for agriculture in the US. China is the largest producer of industrial hemp right now and they export. This is going to help with the balance of trade as well.”

The commissioner stated that West Virginia is ahead of the curve compared to most states on industrial hemp production. One of the states West Virginia is not ahead of is Kentucky. Leonhardt said they are learning from the Bluegrass State.

Each state has to submit a plan now to the United State Department of Agriculture for approval. Kentucky submitted its plan last week.

“Kentucky is talking to us and we are learning a lot from Kentucky,” Leonhardt said. “But that’s why in our next budget bill we have asked for increased funding for industrial hemp. It’s either going to have to come from the general revenue or increased fees. Obviously, most of the hemp growers want it to come from general revenue.

“Kentucky has three of four people working on hemp full-time, complete legislative oversight. I have one person working on it, part-time. He is doing a marvelous job.”

Leonhardt believes is that there is a misconception about industrial hemp and it’s association with marijuana.

Mike Stuart, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia brought a civil lawsuit against hemp farm, Grassy Run Farms in Mason County.

The lawsuit claims that because the farm didn’t comply with seed sourcing, fencing, and signage requirements, the farmers should be treated as if they were growing marijuana, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

“I think this is a pure misunderstanding of what industrial hemp is by the people of the other party,” Leonhardt said. “They keep saying that the guy is growing marijuana but he is not growing marijuana. If you are growing industrial hemp, you would never want to have recreational or medicinal marijuana being hidden inside your plot of industrial hemp.

“Even though they are not exactly the same, they are going to crossbreed and you could end up ruining your field crop of industrial hemp. No farmer is going to put that kind of money into an investment and take a chance when the DOA comes out and takes a sample, and finds out it is too high and has to destroy the crop.”

Leonhardt said there needs to be more education on industrial hemp and what it can do for the state.