Industrial hemp soon will be sprouting roots at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, with help from the Halifax County Agricultural Development.

The first-ever summit hosted at the Institute — in February — will be a collaboration focused on building the industrial hemp industry in the United States, Institute Director Mark Gignac said.

Hemp is the fiber of a cannabis plant, more commonly known as marijuana.

The summit will be focused on building a supply chain and market for industrial hemp fiber and food, highlighting the innovations currently happening in the industry and explore what resources and infrastructure are needed for future growth.

“The summit seeks to serve as a catalyst to help the hemp industry grow and create jobs and economic development in rural communities,” Gignac said.

It also will look at the legislative and regulatory changes that would have to be made to allow the hemp industry to come to Virginia.

The United States is the world’s largest market for hemp products with estimated sales of $688 million in 2016, according to Vote Hemp market research.

Yet, industrial hemp is not currently legal in Virginia without a grower’s license, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Licenses are available through the agriculture department for universities or for state departments of agriculture. Currently, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and James Madison University are the only licensed hemp researchers in Virginia.

When asked if the institute would be looking into a grower’s license, Gignac said “I suspect there will be opportunities arising.”

The event will begin Feb. 26 with a networking reception in the Institute’s atrium, and continue Feb. 27 with a full day of programs that feature experts from the hemp industry.

“When we first threw around the idea, we thought it’d be great to get 150 people to attend,” Gignac said. “We’re prepared for a limit of 250 because of the breakout sessions.”

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Ceillie ​Simkiss reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at csimkiss@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7981.

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