Support for hemp is growing like a weed in Pennsylvania. The state announced Wednesday an expansion of a program that allows a limited number of experimental growers to plant the once-banned crop that many hope will become common in Pennsylvania again.

“We are very interested in having industrial hemp as robust an industry as it was in Pennsylvania 70 years ago before we lost federal authority to grow it,” state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said.The Ag Department’s website says industrial hemp has over 25,000 reported uses, including fiber, oil, biofuel, hand soaps and cosmetics, but it is still classified as a Class 1 drug and cannot legally be grown in the U.S. for human consumption.“That is exactly what we are trying to fix,” Redding said.Pennsylvania was one of the leading hemp producing states in the nation until growing it was outlawed in the 1930s along with marijuana, said Ross Duffield, project manager of the hemp research project at Rodale Institute in Kutztown.Hemp is the same plant species as marijuana, but it contains between zero and .2 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.The federal farm bill of 2014 removed the prohibition of the production of hemp but added restrictions. States have to give the authority to grow hemp, it has to be for research, and it is still classified as a Class 1 drug, Redding said.In 2017, Pennsylvania reintroduced the hemp crop under the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. Through the program, 30 permits were available, and growers could plant up to five acres of hemp exclusively for research purposes, not for commercial sale.“What farmer would be willing to pay $3,000 for a permit to only grow 5 acres and not be able to sell it?” asked Geoff Whaling of Berks County, head of the Pennsylvania

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