Article: The Amish Cannabis Gold Rush

Interesting piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer today

On a recent morning, the shelves at Lancaster County Marketing were lined with CBD root beer and cotton candy lollipops, hemp-infused honey and muscle salves, and CBD prerolled joints with names like Elektra and Special Sauce. A 300-pound sack brimming with leftovers from the local cannabis harvest, on its way to becoming highly prized CBD oil, suffused the office with a particular pungent smell. Across the driveway, the standardbred horse that transported CEO Reuben Riehl to work grazed near a small buggy.

Riehl, 29, is a cannabis visionary in Lancaster County, the cannabis capital of Pennsylvania. But despite the ubiquitousness of CBD in everything from soda to bath bombs, it’s hard to be a visionary these days. It’s nearly a full-time job for Riehl to convince his Amish community, and sometimes even himself, that selling hemp-derived wares is still a good idea.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one chemical compound in the hemp plant. To a layperson, hemp can look identical to marijuana; both fall under the umbrella of cannabis. But hemp contains less than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes a person high. (For comparison, dispensaries sell marijuana that contains upward of 20% THC). In recent years the popularity of CBD has soared, with people turning to it for seizure disorders, arthritis and joint pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

Hundreds of years ago, hemp was a major cash crop in Pennsylvania, immortalized in Lancaster town names like East and West Hempfield. The more recent excitement about CBD arrived in Lancaster about five years ago. That was when the federal Farm Bill of 2018 made it legal to grow, process, transport, and sell hemp nationwide. In Pennsylvania and around the country, farmers rushed to grow it, enticed by promises of enormous profits.

It was a particularly promising crop to the Amish, who eschew most modern technology, because hemp benefits from being harvested by hand. Lancaster County is home to the largest Amish settlement in the country, with more than 44,000 residents, according to records compiled by Elizabethtown College.

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