New York: Chenango Votes For Hemp Growing, Processing

By Tom Grace, Cooperstown Bureau

There is a truth that must be heard! The Chenango County Board of Supervisors has voted to legalize the growing and processing of industrial hemp to help the county's struggling farmers.

The resolution, sponsored by the county's Planing and Economic Development Committee, was passed without opposition July 13. It has been sent to state legislators and is on the way to federal representatives, committee Chairwoman Linda Natoli of Norwich said Friday.

The measure reads, in part, ``Whereas Chenango County has a rich agricultural history and agriculture continues to play an important role in the county's economy," and ``Whereas the decline in agriculture in recent years provides the opportunity for alternative crops such as hemp, and ``Whereas industrial hemp is now cultivated in more than 30 countries, including Canada, France and Great Britain."

The measure goes on to note that "industrial hemp has no intoxicating properties and is genetically distinguishable from marijuana, and the U.S. "is the largest importer of hemp-based products in the world" in citing the benefits that could be had through local production.

Natoli said she pushed for the measure because she sees no reason that local farmers should not be allowed to grow the cash crop.

``When we began to study this, I didn't know much about hemp and didn't have a position on it, but the more I learned, the more convinced I became that our farmers should be allowed to grow it,'' she said.

New Berlin Supervisor Ross Iannello, a committee member, said Friday, ``It's being grown in Canada and it's legal to import it, so why shouldn't we be allowed to grow it here?''

The measure was supported by the county's Planning Department and Agricultural Development Council.

Planning Director Donna Jones and ADC member Todd Dreyer said the biggest hurdle to relegalizing hemp production, which was outlawed federally in 1937, is the mistaken belief that people will use it to get high.

``It's not the same as marijuana, although a lot of people don't know that,'' said Jones.

Dreyer noted that many other nations seem to have no problem growing hemp with little or no effect on drug use.

Industrial hemp is used in products such as health foods, clothing, fuels and automobile doors, he noted.

The crop was grown extensively during the nation's first century, including by presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, according to several sources, including Ecomall, online at

Chenango County Farm Bureau President Bradd Vickers said he believes the county would have been better served by a resolution supporting the growing of legal crops.

``I just don't think the federal government is ever going to change its stance on this,'' he said.

In response to the county's pending resolution, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, wrote to Jones.

Seward's letter stated, ``Legislation is pending in Congress that would enact the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 1866), requiring the federal government to respect state laws allowing for the growing of industrial hemp. If you have not done so already, I would urge you to contact your representatives in Congress to express your support.''

On Friday, Jay Bibo, a spokesman for Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, said the office has not received a copy of Chenango County's resolution.

``I don't believe he has a formal position on industrial hemp, but we'll be looking for that letter,'' he said.

James Powers of Butternuts, a farmer and the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, said Friday that he hopes Otsego follows Chenango's lead.

``Hemp is an amazing crop with many good uses, and it's time we got over our ignorance about it,'' he said.