ALBANY - Growing industrial hemp for research purposes would be legal in New York under a bill proposed this week by a pair of Southern Tier lawmakers.
If passed, the legislation would allow the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, colleges and universities to grow and research hemp. It would make New York the 11th state to legalize the growth of hemp, which is made from cannabis and used to make oils, jewelry and other products.
An amendment to the federal farm bill this year allowed for hemp research programs in states that allow industrial hemp growth. The New York bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Broome County, and Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County.
"This is a great opportunity for New York state to start the research," Lupardo said. "Because if we're going to begin a whole new industry, we should get a handle on what the proper growing conditions are (and) what parts of the state would work best. It would give us a huge jump on states when this becomes legal for production."
Hemp growth had been banned without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration because it's made from cannabis, the same plant as marijuana. But hemp contains a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.
Proponents for hemp say it can be used to produce various products, such as fabric, paper or soap. The sale of hemp products in the U.S. is reliant on imports, with retail sales topping $581 million in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Hemp Industries Association.
The bill was touted by the state Farm Bureau for its potential to provide new economic opportunities for New York farmers.
"Diversification is important as farms look to remain successful in a global marketplace, and industrial hemp could be another profitable alternative for agriculture, which in turn, would help boost the state's rural economy," Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau, said in a statement.
The state Conservative Party, a small but influential third party that often aligns with Republicans, has been opposed to efforts to decriminalize marijuana or legalize the drug for medical purposes.
Chairman Mike Long said the party doesn't have a position on the hemp bill, but said he does not see hemp the same as marijuana.
"We're going to have to take a look at this. I don't see this as marijuana, I see this as industrial," Long said. "At this moment we're not taking a position on this, we want to research it a bit further."
O'Mara, the Senate sponsor of the hemp bill, said he believes the pilot program could put the state at "the forefront of a future industry that can diversify and strengthen our agricultural industry, generate revenue and create jobs."
Albany Bureau staff writer Jon Campbell contributed to this report.