As the last order of business, on the last business day before a holiday weekend, the PA Senate took a historic step by passing HB967, the house Industrial Hemp Bill. This brings hemp one step from its independence in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, it’s not that hemp was ever controversial on its journey so far. The Senate had passed its own version, SB50, unanimously in March of this year. It has always enjoyed bi-partisan support, but when you have competing bills in each chamber there is always uncertainty as to which bill will make it to the governor’s desk.
After months of pushing and trying to wade through the politics of change, the senate to its credit chose to move the house bill. This is in large part due to our champions in the senate, the sponsors of SB50, State Senators Judy Schwank, democrat from Berks County and Mike Folmer, republican from Lebanon County. From the beginning both understood the importance of Pennsylvania capitalizing on the 2014 Federal Farm Bill section 7606; which allowed states for the first time to reintroduce and research this crop of amazing potential.
Both took every opportunity to educate and promote industrial hemp, and were willing to set aside the satisfaction of having it be their bill that passed. In something that seems so rare in our political climate, they put the people and the issue first. They not only claimed to care about farmers, job creation, sustainability and the environment, they proved it.
In the house, HB967 was introduced by State Representative Russ Diamond, republican from Lebanon County. He too saw the potential for hemp for Pennsylvania and worked very hard to gain support in the House. Representative Diamond will always be known as our hero in the House. With Rep. Diamond’s support and encouragement, the prime co-sponsor Marty Flynn, democrat from Lackawanna County, introduced an amendment that opened up the bill to specifically allow individual farmers to license directly with the PA Department of Agriculture, and not be bound with having to contract with an institute of higher education. Ultimately this is what made us prefer HB967 over the senate’s version.
The Department of Agriculture is extremely supportive of industrial hemp but their hands were tied until legislation actually passed. They have a lot of work ahead of them in creating and implementing the industrial hemp program without the proper funding to do it. While it is unfortunately way too late in the season for us to get any pilot programs running this year, we have every confidence that they will have ample time and support to be ready to hit the ground running next spring!
On July 5th, HB967 is scheduled for concurrence in the house. Which in basic terms simply means that they agree to the slight changes made in the senate. So after Tuesday’s vote, HB967 will be sent to the governor to sign it into law. We know that Governor Wolf is completely supportive and eager to sign it. We even have pens made from hemp for him to use to sign the bill.
We are about to all witness the rebirth of an entire industry! It’s appropriate that this is happening now as we celebrate our country’s independence. Hemp was always a part of our nation’s heritage, instrumental to our way of life and our economy. We are thrilled to see hemp come back and look forward to Pennsylvania reclaiming its rightful place as the leader in hemp production.
Happy Independence Day!