ITHACA, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo sees a lucrative future for New York in industrial hemp growth and manufacturing. At Cornell University on Wednesday, Cuomo signed a bill designed to make New York a national leader in growing and manufacturing industrial hemp.

“I really believe this is going to be not just an agricultural boom if we do it right, but it will also be a manufacturing boom,” Cuomo said.

Cornell University has been a leader in hemp research since New York launched an industrial hemp pilot program in 2015. The pilot program has allowed restricted cultivation to New York farms partnered with universities like Cornell.

Though it shares the same genus and species, industrial hemp is not marijuana. It contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannibol (THC) and is used for food, paper products, clothing, soap, oils and thousands of other products. Hemp has been grown for thousands of years and has a deep history in the United States and was grown alongside corn, tobacco and wheat until the 1930s. Hemp was used for rope, textiles and paper. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.

Growth of industrial hemp was hampered in the 1930s after being classified the same as marijuana and heavily taxed. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 put a formal end to the industry in the U.S.

Industrial hemp is grown in 30 countries, but not in the U.S. despite being the largest consumer of hemp fiber, oil and seeds, Howard Zemsky, president, CEO and commissioner of Empire State Development, said at the bill announcement Wednesday.

The crop today has an estimated 25,000 uses, Zemsky said, ranging from biofuels to animal feed to cosmetics. Citing figures from the Congressional Research Service, Zemsky said the industrial hemp industry can nearly triple in the United States from $600 million to $1.5 billion annually.

A table featuring hemp plants and products on display at the bill announcement Wednesday at Cornell University. Alyvia Covert/Ithaca Voice

Agriculture has been a traditional engine of New York’s economy, Cuomo said. He wants New York to take the lead on industrial hemp growth and create a “cluster economy” for the industry in New York, making the state a hub for its growth.

New York will invest $10 million to jump start the industry, NYS Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said. Five million will be invested in research and production and $5 million will be spent on processing and commercialization. The first $5 million investment will begin immediately, with a $1 million partnership with Cornell University and SUNY Morrisville.

“Although the world has grown hemp for centuries, we’ve got an awful lot to learn on how to produce it at very high levels of production here in New York,” Ball said. “Think about where our land grant system, (what) our agriculturists know today about corn, about carrots, about dairy. We need to get up to speed on this in a big way.”

A team of Cornell researchers is currently studying how to develop the industry in New York by looking at barriers to growth including seed issues, diseases and pests. This year, Cornell’s Industrial Hemp Program is testing 17 industrial hemp varieties in three locations. Local research is need in New York related to spacing, harvesting, processing and nutritional needs, according to an industrial hemp publication from Cornell.

This year, New York will import 53,000 pounds of hemp seed — imported from Italy by SUNY Morrisville and from Canada by Cornell. The seed amount will bring acreage to nearly 2,000 acres in New York.

“The hemp industry was artificially aborted in this country,” Cuomo said. “We know the value of the product.

The legislation signed Wednesday at Cornell will categorize industrial hemp as an “agricultural commodity,” which will give it the same protections as any other crop. It will also create an industrial hemp seed certification program to ensure intellectual property rights are safeguarded and seeds are produced consistent with state and federal laws. The bill also creates a “one stop shop” for industrial hemp research, regulations and producer licensing.

Cuomo said the hemp industry was “artificially aborted” in the U.S. He said in many ways investing in industrial hemp is a “no brainer” because they know there is a market for it already since the U.S. relies heavily on importing hemp. Cuomo said he wants New York to lead the industry in the U.S.

“We know the product sells. We know there’s a market. We know there’s an international market. We know we’re now importing it. We know that it was artificially and prematurely aborted. They only thing we have to do is grow it and get through the federal maze of regulations, jump start it, make it happen here,” Cuomo said.

Learn more about New York’s Industrial Hemp Research Initiative here.

Featured image: Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs bill Wednesday at Cornell University to accelerate industrial hemp growth in New York. Alyvia Covert/Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.