CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Advocates for what they say could be a game changing cash crop gathered on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall Wednesday afternoon. They want industrial hemp legalized to help struggling American farmers.

The group says the main reason they face opposition is because people don't understand the difference between industrial hemp and medical marijuana.

Michael Lewis, a Kentucky farmer, made a flag from industrial hemp. Supporters raised that flag outside Charlottesville City Hall Wednesday, hoping to combat some of the myths that hemp is not the same thing as marijuana.

“It's lumped in as a schedule one drug when it has no attributes of a drug. It's like putting corn as a drug because it makes liquor,” said Jason Amatucci of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition.

The Virginia General Assembly actually already legalized growing industrial hemp, but federal laws still prohibit it.

“We are the largest consumer market in the world for industrial hemp products and the only G7 nation that does not allow its farmers to cultivate it,” said Michael Bowman, National Hemp Association chairman.

Supporters say legalizing hemp would boost the economy.
“This is about helping our farmers get a new crop in because tobacco is declining. South side of Virginia, they need help,” said Amatucci.

Supporting farmers is part of why the groups chose Wednesday, the day that Willie Nelson took the stage to play a benefit concert for the Local Food Hub, to hang the flag.

“We had the benefit of having one of the greatest supporters of industrial hemp for farmers, the founder of Farm Aid Willie Nelson, playing in town,” said Bowman.

“Willie Nelson has had a lifelong commitment to small family farms and healthy eating,” said Laura Brown of the Local Food Hub.

Virginia Hemp History Day is coming up in July with a chance to try some hemp products and learn more about the plant. To find out more information, click here.