HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Departments of Agriculture and Health announced today a new partnership to make Pennsylvania’s six medical marijuana testing laboratories available to the agriculture industry for testing hemp crops for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels.
“Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has been a great friend to Pennsylvania agriculture, as we’ve worked to keep the industry healthy and moving and comply with federal law throughout 2020,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “This partnership is just one more example, and we’re grateful to the Department of Health for helping to make these labs available to Pennsylvania’s new and growing hemp industry as they work to meet testing requirements during a very tight, critical harvest window.”
For the 2020 growing season, Pennsylvania has 510 farms growing approximately 3,000 acres of hemp across the commonwealth. Every hemp lot in Pennsylvania is required to be sampled and tested to show a THC level at or below 0.3 percent. Anything above that level is considered marijuana. Prior to the availability of medical marijuana laboratories for hemp growers, 13 in-state and out-of-state labs were available to hemp growers for required potency testing. As growers are nearing harvest season, the Department of Health’s medical marijuana laboratories add capacity during a critical, short window of time.
“The Department of Health is pleased to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture as part of their hemp program,” Dr. Levine said. “We are committed to ensuring that Pennsylvanians have access to medicine that is regulated and approved. The laboratories that are part of the medical marijuana program have been key partners in our program, and we believe they will play a key role in assisting the Department of Agriculture as well.”
In 2017 and 2018, the Department of Agriculture administered the Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program, legitimized by the 2014 federal Farm Bill and authorized in Pennsylvania statute by the Industrial Hemp Research Act. As of 2019, the research program’s 100-acre cap was lifted for the inaugural year of the commercial program which was made possible through the 2018 Farm Bill. The 2019 program permitted 324 growers who grew just over 4,000 acres of hemp in 55 Pennsylvania counties.
Under the historic 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill, the state made funding available to hemp farmers through the creation of a state Specialty Crop Block grant. The Department of Agriculture also encouraged the USDA to make federal specialty crop funds available to hemp farmers.
Hemp was grown in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States until after World War II but became regulated along with marijuana and its cultivation was prohibited by federal law. Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species. Unlike marijuana, hemp is also grown for fiber and seed, in addition to floral extracts, and must maintain a much lower concentration of the psychoactive chemical THC below the 0.3 percent legal threshold.
–Shannon Powers, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture