OAK HILL – The cannabis plant isn't only used for smoking. Industrial hemp is an agriculture crop that is making a resurgence across the country.
“It is a product that can be used for fiber. It's very strong. I can be used for oil production, flour, animal feed, heating pellets,” says Department of Agriculture spokesperson Butch Antolini.
Industrial hemp is not marijuana. It lacks the THC that gives the cannabis its mind-altering effects.
Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, Daryl Cowles recognizes the difference between hemp and marijuana, "I don't expect we'll be smoking industrial hemp."
Antolini says he’s heard the concerns.
“I think one of the questions that was, ‘somebody will go out and they'll get authorization to plant a field of industrial hemp, and then they'll plant regular marijuana in it.’”
But he says that simply wouldn’t work, “The pollination of (the hemp) would destroy the marijuana with a high THC content.”
So why hemp, and why now? Officials with the department of agriculture say there's money to be made.
“If you look and see what's happening in some of these other states there's obviously a market for it,” says Antolini.
He adds that states like Colorado, Washington, and others have raked it in. “It's created quite a windfall taxation-wise for some of these other states as well."
Reports out of Colorado show the state hauling in millions of dollars for medical marijuana, industrial hemp, and even recreational marijuana.
Legalizing weed may be far off, but history says hemp is a money-maker.
Antolini says there should be a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana, “A lot of people just say, ‘well, it's pot.’ Well, it's not.”
“It's not something you go and pull up out of the ground and smoke,” says Democrat Delegate, Clif Moore, “So it's not an illegal activity, it's not a drug.”
The West Virginia House has passed Bill 3011 that goes into effect this summer. It allows testing of hemp at sites licensed by the Commissioner of Agriculture.
“By next growing season, I think the plan will be for some research projects to be identified, and they'll go through the application and licensure process.”
Those projects will primarily be done at institutions of higher learning.
With all the questions surrounding marijuana, even those who are hesitant to legalize marijuana, like Cowles, can get behind hemp.
“It is a possibility that it could be an industry right here in West Virginia.”