Group’s efforts to conduct hemp research at SUNY-ESF on hold

Emmy Gnat | Head Illustrator

SUNY-ESF student group waitlisted in efforts to grow hemp on campus.

UPDATED: March 20, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.

A SUNY-ESF student group’s efforts to obtain a license to grow hemp for campus research has been put on hold.

The Hemp Society of ESF is a club at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry that was founded last semester to promote research into the development of industrial hemp. Sayje Lasenberry, a SUNY-ESF sophomore, started the group.

The federal Agricultural Act of 2014 legalized the growing and cultivation of industrial hemp for research purposes by institutions of higher education or state agriculture departments and left it up to states to decide whether or not to regulate the crop, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

New York state first launched its Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program in 2014, according to the Press and Sun-Bulletin. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law last year allowing the sale, distribution and transportation of industrial hemp by farms growing the crop for research purposes.

According to Jola Szubielski, Director of Public Information for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to expand the number of licenses available to institutions. This change is likely to occur after the passing of the state’s budget on April 1 2017, Szubielski added.

Currently, the state’s program only awards 10 of these licenses to different entities. Ed Shao, the Hemp Society of ESF’s treasurer, said that while the Hemp Society of ESF would be able to participate in the research, SUNY-ESF would ultimately be conducting the research.

“I came to New York on the hope that cannabis would be legalized,” said Lasenberry, who is studying sustainable energy management at SUNY-ESF and looking to pursue a career in the hemp industry.

The Hemp Society of ESF also aims to create a network for students interested in the emerging industry of hemp production and to support private businesses that are pursuing the production of the crop in New York, Lasenberry said.

At the forefront of private hemp production in New York state is JD Farms, which is located in Eaton, New York, according to The New York Times. Eaton is located about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse. JD Farms is a pilot program that provides hemp seeds to SUNY Morrisville for research purposes, said Mark Justh, co-founder of the farm.

“We are very excited about the changes that Gov. Cuomo and legislators are working on making industrial hemp available to private farms,” Justh said.

Lasenberry said it is businesses like JD Farms that the Hemp Society of ESF is looking to support. He said the group plans to support these businesses by networking hemp farmers together with research institutions such as SUNY-ESF.

The Hemp Society has generated interest from the SUNY-ESF student body, with more than 60 students looking to participate in the group, he added.

Despite the passing of the Department of Agriculture and Market’s March 14 deadline, the group is confident that they will secure a license. This should occur by fall of 2018, Lasenberry said.

Shao added that he thinks the group will expand to Syracuse University in the future, despite the SU Student Association having rejected the group’s application to become a Registered Student Organization in the fall 2016 semester.

Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins, an assistant professor in SUNY Morrisville’s School of Agriculture, Sustainability, Business and Entrepreneurship, is among the first to research the crop in New York at a university. Jenkins has been working on hemp research since Cuomo signed the Senate’s bill into law last year.

She said she has encountered hurdles often with her work because of the stigma surrounding hemp.

Lasenberry agreed with Jenkins, and said his group’s work is focused on not only destigmatizing hemp at SUNY-ESF, but also throughout the greater New York area.

“I walk into situations thinking I’m going to be discussing the research we are doing but I spend most of my time clarifying that, no, industrial hemp is not marijuana,” Jenkins said. “It’s a stigma we must really work to break.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, the status of the Hemp Society of ESF’s efforts to obtain a license to grow hemp for campus research was misstated. The group’s efforts are currently on hold. The Daily Orange regrets this error.


Top Stories