Ten-thousand new jobs for Virginians; that what one politician believes he can create by growing a single new crop. The problem is that crop is currently outlawed.
From money to milk, clothes to cars; there are an estimated 25,000 products, all with one common thread: hemp.
"Hemp paper, hemp clothing, hemp oil, hemp seed, we’ve been using hemp in our food for 4,000 years," explained VT Professor of Crop Sciences Dr. Jim McKenna.
The US buys hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hemp product every year, but American farmers can't grow the crop.
“One of the problems in our economy today is being over regulated. One regulation needs to be changed to be able to do this, and that's what I'm trying to do, to get it changed," said Montgomery County Board of Supervisors member Jim Politis, a Republican.
Jim Politis says growing industrial hemp could bring thousands of agriculture and manufacturing jobs back to Virginia.
"I'm just so excited about it, I think it could help reshape the future of this country," said Politis. “It’s not the answer, but it’s a portion of the answer.”
The problem is that industrial hemp comes from the plant cannabis, the same plant that marijuana comes from, which has been outlawed by the Drug Enforcement Agency since the 1930's.
“It’s the difference between a wolf and a chihuahua,” said Politis, using the analogy that both animals are of the canine species.
“It's just another crop,” said McKenna. “It just happens to be a crop that has a bad relative, I guess if you want to think of it in those terms.”
Dr. Jim McKenna is an agriculture professor at Virginia Tech. He says hemp has very low THC levels, which is the component of marijuana that gets you high. Industrial hemp typically has a THC level of less than .3%, while THC levels in marijuana can range from 1% to 30%.
McKenna says he isn’t sure how in-demand hemp is in today's market place, but he does believe the crop often has an unfair stigma.
“If indeed the only reason we don’t have hemp legalized is because of its relationship to marijuana, than to me that’s a debate that ought to happen,” said McKenna. “But it’s got a long uphill battle to become a major crop, because it has to create an entire infrastructure to handle it, market it, and do all the things that needs to be done."
Politis wants to do just that; not just grow the crop but build the infrastructure to manufacture and sell it domestically.
"I think if I can get enough grassroots effort than they can’t ignore it," Politis said excitedly of his campaign.
He's garnering support from local agencies and municipalities, hoping to eventually put enough pressure on the DEA to separate hemp from marijuana and allow the crop to once again grow in Virginia.
"People don't ever want to go backwards, I think there are things in this country we need to go a little backwards on and this is one of them," said Politis.
Politis will meet with Virginia lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday about the issue of de-regulating industrial hemp.
Click here to see the report.