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Philly420: Founding Fathers would support Pa. hemp bill

"I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. ... Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where. "

George Washington wrote those lines in 1794 while he served as the first U.S. President and lived at the corner of 6th and Market Streets here in Philadelphia.

If you think you spend a lot of time texting or emailing your work colleagues, it pales in comparison to the truly massive amount of letters Washington was sending from Philly to his gardener at Mount Vernon, his Virginia plantation, that focused on his agriculture.

Industrial hemp was an important crop back then, grown across the colonies used for mainly for paper, rope and fabric.

In fact, hemp is believed to be one of the oldest domesticated crops. Our hemp history dates back to William Penn himself. Penn was a capitalist and hemp was central to his game.

Historian and author Les Stark of the Keystone Cannabis Coalition points out:

In 1683, one of the first measures passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly was "An act for the encouraging of raising hemp in Pennsylvania" by making the fiber legal tender at four pence per pound to alleviate currency shortages and to promote commerce. In 1685, William Penn noted great quantities already cultivated in his province and declared that hemp would be among the staples of trade here. 

Special mills to process hemp fibers were scattered across the Commonwealth. But those businesses were shut down in the 1940s as marijuana prohibition took hold nationwide. Industrial hemp has only trace amounts of THC. You would have to smoke acres of the stuff to get high, yet it was lumped in with the other varieties of the Cannabis plant.

Industrial hemp also does not look anything like a smoke-able marijuana plant. Growing 10-14 feet tall and lacking the distinctively large flower buds where THC, CBD and other cannabinoids are formed, industrial hemp looks more like bamboo.

Last year, the federal U.S. Farm Act relaxed the law and allowed states to experiment with industrial hemp crops without fear of interference. Kentucky harvested a hemp crop in 2014 under those provisions and a local state law.

On the Fourth of July last year, Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado even arranged for a Star Spangled Banner made of hemp to fly over the U.S. Capitol.

In 2015, a bipartisan group of legislators are going even further with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act in Congress to definitively separate hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Maligned for almost a century, hemp may be coming back to Pennsylvania soon. State Sens. Judy Schwank and Mike Folmer introduced a bill last week, SB50, that would allow industrial hemp to be farmed again in the fields of Pennsylvania.

"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 in a press release.

"Twelve other states are already ahead of Pennsylvania in this industry. We are long overdue on utilizing the prospects that the Farm Bill of 2014 has offered to us as a state," said Sen. Folmer.

SB50 has been referred to the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, where Schwank is the Minority Chair.

At the Pennsylvania Farm Show this year, the nation's "largest indoor agricultural" expo, Folmer and Schwank held an information forum and found tremendous positive support among local farmers for hemp.

George Washington would be proud.

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