Pennsylvania’s Family Farmers Shouldn’t Miss Out on Cannabis Opportunities [Opinion] | main edition

In 2016, when medical cannabis became legal in Pennsylvania (coincidentally, at the same time industrial hemp did), it presented a potential opportunity for the family farmers in our commonwealth to diversify their farms’ income streams, and hedge against the undulations of the commodity markets to which so many family farmers are held these days.

Unfortunately, the barriers to entry to become a grower for this lucrative new market were far too great for most family farmers to overcome. As a result, the majority of grow permits were instead issued to large, out-of-state conglomerates.

With them went the tens of millions of dollars that would be generated by this new industry. Dollars that should have remained in circulation here in Pennsylvania, bolstering rural, urban and agricultural economies throughout the commonwealth are instead shipped by the truckload across state lines.

As a result of this legislative slight to family farms, a PFU member from the Pittsburgh area was among those who was effectively “shut out” of this opportunity to diversify his operation by adding the enterprise of growing this new crop. Despite being desirous of doing so, knowledgeable, suitably equipped, and geographically well-situated to grow for this new market, the barriers to entry were just too great.

As Farmers Union policy is 100% member-written, this member proposed language to our convention on the topic that aimed to provide guidance to legislators in the hopes of preventing the same thing from happening should “adult use” or “recreational” cannabis come to Pennsylvania. The policy was adopted by PFU membership without so much as a whisper of opposition.

For clarity, Pennsylvania Farmers Union’s policy around adult use cannabis offers no commentary on the social aspects of cannabis. Nor does it advocate for the legalization of cannabis. That’s simply not the station of a farm organization.

Rather, our policy simply acknowledges that, given the fact that adult use cannabis has been legalized in 18 states (plus Washington DC, and Guam) over the past 10 years — creating large influxes of tax dollars in virtually every case — the likelihood is high that Pennsylvania will someday follow suit. (Especially when one considers that in two adjoining states — New York and New Jersey — voters have recently spoken on the matter, adding those neighboring states to the 16 that preceded them.)

When that happens, PFU policy is clear in stating that the family farmers who grow the food that feeds us all — in good times and bad — should have equitable access to the “green rush” that will ensue.

At the end of the day, PA Farmers Union’s mission is to advocate for issues of import to Pennsylvania’s family farmers. At the center of PFU’s advocacy efforts are things that have the potential to keep families on the land, feeding Pennsylvania.

Though growing cannabis may not be for everybody, ensuring that family farmers have the option of participating in what would be one of the biggest opportunities in agriculture certainly fits that bill.


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