CHESHIRE, Mass. – Hemp and marijuana have some similarities, but a big difference is hemp is federally legal. Massachusetts representatives Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox and Natalie Blais of Deerfield are hoping to help farmers with a proposed bill which would group the cannabis product with more traditional crops.
Jacob Zieminski is a hemp farmer in Berkshire County.
“Visually, you can’t tell,” Zieminski said. “There’s no difference. This plant grows – marijuana, hemp all under the cannabis umbrella – grow exactly the same.”
The measurable difference is in the THC levels. The government made it federally legal to grow hemp as part of a farm bill which passed in 2018. Hemp is legally distinguished from marijuana by having a THC level below 0.3%.
At CAVU Hemp, Zeiminski focuses on small batch, craft hemp products.
“This isn’t for the fiber and the textiles and kind of what we’re seeing, which is going to be the more lucrative part of of hemp,” Zieminski said. “You know, when we think about this APR change that’s coming up, we’re thinking more traditional farming, not the craft CBD oil and smokable market.”
Pignatelli agrees hemp can be a money maker for Massachusetts, so he’s co-sponsoring a bill to expand the Agriculture Preservation Restrictions (APR) for hemp cultivation.
It would allow farmers to take advantage of tax benefits and normalize hemp as an agricultural product.
“Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of marijuana, but I think hemp has some opportunities,” Pignatelli said. “If some farmers don’t want to do it, they don’t have to do it. I’m not telling you, you have to grow corn if you’d rather grow hay, that’s a local decision. But it’s another tool in the toolbox that I think farmers could use that may help preserve the family farms or the smaller farms.”
“I think that’s a great analogy,” Zieminski said. “It is another tool to the toolbox. I think it’s a technical checkbox, really. Right now, we can grow an APR as it is, but I think we run into a lot of challenges around the grants. We should be eligible for energy grants and water management grants and soil management.”
Zieminski said small farms in the northeast interested in growing hemp should focus on the craft market, because you need a lot of land to compete in the textile market.
“We’ve got some time where that becomes relative, that being the fiber market,” Zieminski said. “But we do need to start treating this just like every other agricultural product.”
“I know that it’s hard to be competitive with the hemp products that are grown in the South, but just don’t discount it because you can’t be competitive,” Pignatelli said. “There’s opportunities within Massachusetts, too, to grow hemp and use it as a byproduct. Like I say, sailing, roping, clothing. I think there’s endless opportunities going forward.”
Zeiminski said one of the keys helping the hemp industry is educating interested farmers on best agricultural practices to preserve land in Massachusetts.
“The more important part is using this opportunity to get better, not just taking care of our farmers as we do today,” Zieminski said. “We don’t take care of our hemp farmers, just being clear about that. We don’t take care of our marijuana farmers to be clear about that. And they are farmers.”