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Philly420: Ex-Flyer, Pa. State Senators host a hemp building clinic

Cannabis can be used as a construction material, and it won't catch afire.

Not only can you smoke cannabis, you can build with it.

A workshop on building with hempcrete, a cannabis-reinforced concrete, will take place this Saturday, June 6th, in Berks County.

The event will feature talks from former Philadelphia Flyer Riley Cote, Pa. State Sen. Judy Schwank (D., Berks), St. Sen. Mike Folmer (R., Lebanon), St. Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) and author/activist Les Stark of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition. A bill to allow industrial hemp farming is making its way through the legislative process in Harrisburg.

The gathering is part of a national series of events called Hemp History Week, with dozens planned across Pennsylvania though Sunday.

John Patterson, a career carpenter of Tiny Hemp Houses in Colorado, will be leading the workshop.

Hemp, when mixed with a lime binder, becomes a lightweight building material that can be shaped into a form similar to a cinder block. When fully cured, it floats in water. Hempcrete structures up to 10 stories tall reportedly have been built with it in Europe.

On Saturday, participants will learn the basics of design and framing along with a history of hemp building materials. The core lessons will focus on hempcrete recipes and the proper mixing techniques. Attendees will go home with their own block of hempcrete.

Senators Schwank and Folmer are the lead sponsors of the hemp farming bill SB50.

"From paper to fuel, clothing to biodegradable plastics, the return of industrial hemp would give Pennsylvania's farmers the opportunity to grow an in-demand crop that benefits tens of millions of people all over the world," said Schwank.

During a hearing before the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee in May, the measure received the support of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the state Dept. of Agriculture. Rep. Diamond has sponsored a companion bill in the House.

Cote has been holding the Hemp Heals Music Festival at Penn's Landing since 2013 to raise awareness for the multiplicity of uses for the plant. The concert takes place this year on July 31st and features Sublime with Rome, Rebelution, Pepper and Mickey Avalon.

"The Hemp Heals Foundation is helping people reconnect to the natural world through education and innovation," said Cote.

William Penn saw hemp as a core crop and it had a rich history in the Commonwealth. Long used for rope and fiber, hemp has found a resurgence today in food products, beauty care products and sustainable building materials. Early European settlers to the area even used hemp as legal tender.

Hemp is in the cannabis family but it's a very different plant. Growing in tall stalks, like bamboo, hemp contains only trace amounts of THC and other cannabinoids compared to its smokeable cousin. So don't pack your hemp t-shirt into a pipe. Inhaling a field of the stuff would not get you high. (And, for that matter, neither would trying to burn down a structure built of hempcrete. Its fireproof.)

But it was marijuana prohibition that maligned the crop and stamped out hemp farming across the United States.

Today, 13 states have passed modern hemp farming laws. The federal U.S. Farm Act of 2014 officially allowed these states to proceed.

Les Stark, who spearheaded the effort for the Pa. bill, helped to organize the building workshop.

"As a historian who studied the old Pennsylvania hemp industry for the past 20 years I am thrilled to see hemp coming back," said Stark.

"It's an exciting opportunity," Stark said. "Over the next few years we are going to lay the foundation of a great industry and it feels good to be a part of it."

The Hempcrete workshop takes place June 6th at 9 a.m., 631 West Penn Avenue (422 West) in Robesonia, Pa. Information and registration can be found here.

Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and co-chair of PhillyNorml. Contact him at