Updated: Mar 12, 2019
People don’t often associate hemp and higher education. But here at Salisbury University, a budding new pilot program aims to do just that.
A probiotic developed here at SU to increase the yields of peanuts, corn and other crops will soon be used by local farmers on industrial hemp.
This new development comes after the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 698, allowing for the Maryland Department of Agriculture to launch the Maryland Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.
SU would be the first institution in Maryland to partake in the program.
“These aren’t drug plants,” said Dr. Mark Holland, a professor of biological sciences here at SU.
He noted that while they are the same species as psychoactive cannabis, or marijuana, these plants aren’t being cultivated with getting high in mind.
Industrial hemp, unlike psychoactive cannabis, contains almost no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active chemical in marijuana that alters one’s mental state.
Unfettered production of hemp is illegal according to federal law, but the Agricultural Act of 2014 contained provisions which legally allowed for the production of hemp in co-ordinance with a college or university as part of a research project.
According to the Congressional Research Service, roughly $700 million in hemp products are sold in the United States. But due to federal restrictions, almost all of it is imports.
“What kind of an economic impact does that have?” said Holland.
Holland believes a loosening of regulation could provide an economic boon to Maryland.
“You know, it could be pretty substantial, you would think. Especially since right now, we don't do any of it.”
Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated plants known to man, and has a variety of purposes. Hemp can be used to make lotions and oils, cloth and most notably cannabanidol oil, or CBD oil. CBD oil is an extract known for having pain- and anxiety-relieving qualities.
The program aims to explore different methods of growing hemp here on the Eastern Shore. In addition to benefiting the local economy and farming efforts, the program will also give students hands-on experience researching and working in agriculture.
If the program is successful, it could open up a path for a loosening of hemp legislation in Maryland. Holland believes it is only a matter of time.
“I don't think it's going to be too long before legislation progresses and we see some loosening up of some of the regulations. For one thing, state after state after state is legalizing at least medical marijuana and industrial hemp, and more all the time,” said Holland.
SU was first approached by hemp growers last November wishing to be among the first to partake in the state’s pilot program.
To do so, their growing must be accompanied by research conducted at a higher institution.
The department is especially curious to see if the probiotic has any effect on CBD production in hemp.
The probiotic, developed here at SU over the course of 25 years, will provide an interesting berth of study, as hemp is relatively unstudied.
“We are committed to providing excellent opportunities for undergraduate research, so to be able to participate in a program that is at the forefront of a burgeoning industry for our state is a win-win for both farmers and our student researchers,” said Dr. Jessica Clark, also of the biological sciences department, who co-directs SU’s Office of Undergraduate
Research and Creative Activity.
So far, six growers have signed up to work with SU in growing hemp. SU hopes to partner with roughly a dozen operations.
The growers will be allowed to sell their yields once the program is over.
By K.B. MENSAH
Featured photo: SU Office of Public Relations image.