Industrial hemp can be used for everything from packaging, to medicine, to food, to building and car materials. Photo credit: DmytroMykhailov.
New York has the potential to become a pioneer in sustainability ahead of the opening of retail stores next year. The state legislature, who approved cannabis for adult recreational use in March 2021, will consider a Senate bill this legislative session that aims to encourage the use of industrial hemp to produce packaging for the state’s cannabis products.
What is the Purpose of the Bill?
Senate Agriculture Chair, Michelle Hinchey, a democrat, proposed Senate Bill S7508 in November. It aims to establish New York as a leader in production and growth of biodegradable hemp-based packaging from industrial hemp.
Hinchey authored the bill with the intent to form an industrialized hemp industry that “prioritizes environmental sustainability, delivers business opportunities for New York’s small farmers, and spurs economic development in upstate communities,” as explained in a Nov. 19 New York State Senate press release.
Hinchey’s proposal, according to the press release, “directs the State’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) to develop a plan that will place industrial hemp as the primary packaging source for all cannabis products made in New York State. The bill also tasks the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and Empire State Development (ESD) with creating the Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Incubator Program that would offer financial incentives to farmers and cannabis entrepreneurs who contribute to the development and use of hemp-based packaging materials.”
Officials will require incubator program participants to develop cannabis product packaging. At least 30% of the packaging should be made with hemp; the remaining material may potentially come from recycled plastics. Participants must purchase hemp materials for the program from manufacturers from an eligible New York farm, business, or individual. Eligible suppliers include small farms, or those that the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as earning less than $250,000 in annual revenue, reported Cannabis Now.
Why Industrial Hemp?
Industrial hemp is a sustainable alternative when it comes to packaging and farming.
Post from @oghempindia on Instagram.
For example, hemp can grow in most climates. But it tends to thrive in a more mild, temperate climate like those in New York, according to Climate CoLab, a project of MIT’s Center For Collective Intelligence.
It does not require much water to grow because it is not a water intensive crop. Additionally, it helps replenish soil when farmers use it as part of a regular crop rotation, as the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on regenerative agriculture, reported.
Climate CoLab noted that hemp also does not require chemicals to grow since it naturally shades out weeds.
Additionally, it offers a high return on the energy it consumes to grow the plant because every part can be used in some way, according to City and State New York. For instance, its stems, leaves and other components can be manufactured into tens of thousands of different products. These include building materials, straws, textiles, food, paper, oil, and fuel.
Post from @the_hemp_plastics_company on Instagram.
When it comes to hemp-derived plastics, these are also three and a half times stronger than conventional plastics. Due to this and other factors, they may replace materials made out of traditional plastics, like car parts and electronics. Furthermore, industrial hemp plastics are completely biodegradable, taking as little as two to six months to decompose in comparison to petroleum-based plastics that take thousands of years, according to The National Hemp Association.
Economic Benefits for New York
New York is already a leader in the industrial hemp industry. The state ranks fifth in the country for licensed acreage for hemp, according to a 2020 Hemp Industry Daily report.
However, the emergence of Hinchey’s bill comes at a time when New York farms are struggling to maintain a profit. This has forced many farmers to diversify what they grow and produce, according to Sen. Hinchey’s office.
Since industrial hemp can make a multitude of products, it can provide farmers revenue while also benefiting the state’s economy.
Kristin Steen, director of operations for Industrial Hemp NY, an industrial hemp advocacy group in Delaware County, told Emerald that gaining revenue from industrial hemp and working with manufacturers is key for farmers’ success from the incubator program.
“With the farmer, he’ll grow anything. He just wants to sell it; he wants to make sure you’re going to buy it. So much like potatoes or leeks or any of the other agricultural products that farmers produce, this would be one more. Hopefully there would be a processing facility close enough for the processor to make a deal with the small farmer,” she said.
Additionally, the growth of the industrial hemp industry can potentially increase availability of green sector jobs in the state. As City and State New York noted, more companies are looking to invest in environmental alternatives to traditional products.
Green sector jobs are already growing within the state. For example, according to the New York State 2019 Clean Energy Industry Report, clean energy employment has grown by 8.9% since 2016.
What’s Next for New York?
Steen explained that it will take time for farmers to prosper from this bill.
“As far as small farmers, it’s a multi-stage process before the local small farmers will be very successful in this,” she added. “It’s going to take a couple of years only because the infrastructure, regulations, transportation issues, and the logistics of it assuming there is a locally available processing.”
However, Steen is hopeful about the future of New York’s industrial hemp industry.
“I see a great future. I know it’s going to be a little bit slow. But once it starts going, once we’ve had a couple of successful runs of farm to processor, and out of processor [comes] source material from manufacturers for things such as paper that can be done quickly, fairly easily,” she explained.
Because of this potential, Hinchey plans on making her proposal a priority for the 2022 legislative session.
“With my bill, we have an incredible opportunity to unleash the potential of biodegradable hemp-based products that slashes our use of plastics, incentivizes farmers and entrepreneurs to be part of this innovation stage, and propels an industry that has not reached even a fraction of its full potential,” explained Hinchey in the press release. “Environmentally-safe industrialized hemp is the future of manufacturing and I look forward to getting my bill passed in the 2022 session so that New York can lead the way in this emerging market.”
In the meantime, lawmakers have yet to vote on or pass the bill. As of recently, legislators have referred her bill to the Senate Rules Committee for further action.