KILLINGWORTH, CT — Less than two months after the state began accepting licenses under a new law, 65 licenses for 235 acres of hemp farming have already been approved.

The hemp growing law requires Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt to adopt regulations for an industrial hemp pilot program in accordance with federal law. The pilot program will allow farmers to study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp in Connecticut.

“There was a lot of energy and excitement around the opportunity for hemp, which is why it was so important for the legislature to move quickly on passing the bill,” Hurlburt said.

Last Friday state officials, Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who is also co-chair of the Environment Committee and Killingworth First Selectwoman Catherine Iino got an up close look at one of those locations – Running Brook Farms in Killingworth.

“This new industry presents a multitude of opportunities for businesses and farms across the state,” Cohen said. “It is encouraging to see farms, like Running Brook, taking advantage of this lucrative cash crop.

Cohen added: “Seeing the seedlings going into the ground for eventual sale and use generates an air of excitement and promise for these land owners and manufacturers. Ultimately, everyone in Connecticut reaps the benefits of this pro-farm, pro-business legislation.”

Killingworth’s Iino agreed and added that this new trade is great for her town.

“Killingworth is committed to encouraging agriculture on its lands,” Iino said.

Among the crops currently raised commercially in Killingworth are cranberries, lavender, mushrooms, and alpacas.

“These diverse farms help to preserve the rural character that draws people to our beautiful town,” Iino said.

Running Brook Farms consists of a greenhouse and full garden center. Running Brook Farms received the fourth hemp license in Connecticut and recently planted their first seeds.

The farm’s site manager, Becky Goetsch, said growing hemp is an amazing opportunity.

“Having the opportunity to grow hemp is an exciting proposition on many levels,” Goetsch said. “As a business opportunity, it is phenomenal as hemp’s growing season is in total synergy with our existing nursery seasons, and will help relieve significant financial pressure due to competition from box stores.”

It is estimated that an acre of hemp could generate 500 to 1,500 pounds of dried flowers per acre, resulting in gross revenues of $37,500 to $150,000 per acre. The Hemp Industries Association notes that U.S. retail sales of hemp products totaled nearly $700 million in 2016. 

“On a personal level, it is rewarding to be part of a movement that can have such an enormous impact on both health care and our environment,” Goetsch said. ”Getting this done this year is incredibly important as it gives us growers an entire season to work out the kinks, learn the plant, build the infrastructure for harvesting and processing, thereby positioning us for great success in the 2020 growing season.”

Hurlburt said Connecticut’s legislation will jumpstart the process and positions Connecticut to reap the benefits of industrial hemp.

Textiles such as clothing, diapers, shoes, rope, canvas and tarps are all widely manufactured from the pulp of hemp. Paints, varnishes, fuel, insulation and solvents are also commonly made with the plants.

Hemp is classified as a cannabis plant, but unlike marijuana it has no psychotropic effects. The tetrohydrocannabinol (THC) content is less than .3 percent in hemp and the plant is used for industrial purposes.

Additionally, officials state a local hemp industry would fulfill a demand for locally produced CBD oil, which is currently being used in foods and personal care products, but also has medicinal uses such as alleviating some epileptic conditions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a new medicine, Epidiolex, to treat seizures. It is the first FDA-approved plant-derived cannabinoid medicine.

“The passage of this year’s hemp legislation provided many of Connecticut’s farmers the opportunity raise a new cash crop” said Connecticut Farm Bureau President Don Tuller. “This could bolster our state’s businesses, farms and much more in several ways for years to come.”

Connecticut Hemp Industry Association (CHIA) founder Jeff Wentzel added: “Beyond farming, this new hemp program also creates opportunities for hemp processors, manufacturers, retailers and all the ancillary services involved in creating a new industry in our state. It will support business and job creation and also benefit consumers in our state, who will now have access to locally-grown quality hemp products.”

CHIA estimates more than 100 Connecticut farmers are interested in planting hemp. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are over 25,000 different uses for industrial hemp, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, cosmetic products, animal feed, and food and beverages.