Summit to be held to prepare for potential future hemp industry in Southside

Summit to be held in February at Institute for Advanced Learning and Research

DANVILLE, Va. – Today, growing hemp is illegal in the U.S. without a permit from the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

That's because hemp is classified as a schedule one drug, just like its cannabis cousin, marijuana, because it contains trace amounts of THC, the chemical that gets people high.

Institute for Advanced Learning and Research Executive Director Mark Gignac believes hemp's classification as a drug could change in the near future, though.

"We feel in this region, we're missing an opportunity. If hemp is grown here, there'll be industries develop," Gignac said.

Some estimates say the U.S. spends more than $700 million to import hemp, most of which, Gignac said, comes from Canada.

Hemp can be processed to make all sorts of items like clothes, paper products, food and building materials.

The summit being held Feb. 26-27 is a joint effort between the institute and Halifax County to prepare to take advantage of that opportunity.

"We really want to focus on all aspects, from the field, the grower aspect, all the way through to the uses," Gignac explained.

Halifax County Agriculture Marketing Manager Kimley Blanks believes local farmers are interested in growing hemp, but its profitability and whether it might replace tobacco as the main crop in the area is unknown.

"I think it would just be a crop placed in their rotation. It does have a shorter growing period," Blanks said.

Like Gignac, she believes that if hemp is grown, industry will follow.

"I think we can build the industry. When I say 'build the industry,' I mean the whole supply chain," Blanks said.

Gignac hopes to make the summit an annual event.