Crops of hemp and medical marijuana could rejuvenate small family farms in rural New York

To the Editor:

The year was 1942 and the war effort was in dire need for a booster shot of supplies and one of the groups America turned to was her farmers. The United States Department of Agriculture released a little-known film called Hemp for Victory, which was a how-to-grow manual designed to nationalize the production of hemp to offset the loss of the Philippines and our other sources of hemp.

Globally, things today are not as bleak as they were in 1942 but for many of our Hilltown and farming communities, it’s getting pretty close.

So close that, many elected officials and otherwise rational people are considering pumping millions of gallons of chemically-infused water into the ground to force out natural gas as a viable economic option for our region despite several environmental concerns and plain old common sense as: Don’t go to the bathroom in the same well you drink from.

Looking back to 1942, I think our region’s farmers need to look to hemp again as a cash crop that could be the economic boost that these communities need.

Before you start getting your britches in a bundle, I am not speaking about recreational marijuana use like Colorado (although that’s another idea); I am specifically speaking to the commercial applications for hemp, like fuel in the form of biodiesel, cloth, oils, and food.

Yes, food: Hemp can be made into cheese, milk, and other “dairy” products similar to soy but can be grown right here in New York.  Some 21st-Century uses for hemp now include making an eco-safe bioplastic and in construction as Hempcrete and insulation.  For those of you who are concerned about illegal hemp trade, you can smoke tons of hemp and get nothing more than a headache; there is next to no THC in hemp, limiting its potential to be misused by under-aged thrill-seekers.

The Compassion Care Act is seeking to bring the legalization of medical marijuana to our state; this bill has support on both sides of the aisle. I am a supporter of not only passing this bill but would like to see a provision of that bill be that small family farms would be able to grow the marijuana that would be used for medicinal purposes rather than giving the contract to a big pharmaceutical company that doesn’t benefit any of our local economies.

Medicinal marijuana could be grown year-round by farmers, outdoors in season and hydroponically in the off-season. This growing consortium could be supported initially with funds for securing licensing and providing low-cost loans for equipment.

These two opportunities can be the boon that some of our communities need although it will take some work to bring these ideas into operation. But the potential for steady income for New York’s rural communities is something that deserves a hard look and some folks with chutzpah to make it happen.

In the years ahead, we will learn the hard lessons that corrections and casinos will carry us only so far, that fracking is foolish and it’s cannabis that is king.

Aaron Harrell

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