If you believe the enthusiasts, industrial hemp could be the comeback story of our time –– if only given a chance.

Potential uses abound for the plant, a primary cash crop made into clothing, oil and rope from the 17th century to the mid-19th century but a casualty of the war on the cannabis plant. Among the new uses for the plant are beauty products, car parts, building materials and housing insulation, energy storage devices for electronics, pest resistance and weed suppression.

It does not get you high.

Now, as legal and cultural barriers begin to fall, advocates are confronting perhaps the most difficult hurdle: developing from scratch the institutions and supply chain to sustain a stable market.

Thanks to an expansion of a state-run hemp pilot program, Lehigh University, Thomas Jefferson University and the nonprofit Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council are exploring a partnership aimed at becoming a focus for the nascent U.S. industry.

The research alliance — yet to be formalized, both universities emphasized — would seek a federal “center of excellence” designation, giving it first dibs on U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. It also seeks relationships with international companies that own the harvesting equipment and processing technology to develop a viable market.

It could deliver an economic boon for the Lehigh Valley and southeastern Pennsylvania. Geoff Whaling, president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, led a coalition last month to Europe, where it made a pitch to HempFlax, a Netherlands-based processing company with an eye on the U.S. market.

The company appreciated the holistic approach Lehigh and its partners are taking, said Cameron McCoy, Lehigh’s assistant vice president of economic engagement. Rather than merely selling equipment, HempFlax could gain

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