ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) A plant once outlawed for decades is now making a comeback in Vermont. Hemp is a fascinating plant. It's stuck in the shadow of marijuana's stigma, but for the last few years -- in Vermont at least -- it's legal to grow. And now we're learning it can bring in thousands of dollars per acre.
When Cynthea Wight Hausman got into the wedding business she never thought she'd be guiding brides through hemp fields. "People have been stopping to take pictures," she said.
Reporter Jennifer Costa: Thinking it was marijuana?
Cynthea Wight Hausman: I have no idea what they think.
She's turning heads in Addison County by sticking little plants that look like pot in bouquets, decorations -- even hairdos -- hoping to carve a niche in Vermont's saturated wedding market.
Reporter Jennifer Costa: Is that a thing -- hemp weddings?
Cynthea Wight Hausman: I hope it's a thing.
It's her first season, and she's also the grower.
Reporter Jennifer Costa: Did you ever think you would be a hemp farmer?
Cynthea Wight Hausman: No. No.
A job title the former Olympic hopeful -- turned spa owner -- is still navigating. "It wouldn't have been something I would have just gone off on my own. But there were people there to say -- this is possible. It is legal," she said.
"We need to overcome this stigma," said Rye Matthews, the operations manager for the Vermont Hemp Company. "Hemp can be a really viable cash crop for farmers to rotate through their farms."
Matthews partners with people like Hausman. "We didn't expect farms to be able to come up with this kind of investment on their own," he said.
Which is why they provide certified seeds and mentoring in exchange for a cut of her profits.
Reporter Jennifer Costa: When you look out at this field, is it like a dream come true?
Rye Matthews: Definitely.
The tops can be sold for food products, and the fine crystals for their supposed healing properties -- called CBD. And the rest for fiber in rope, clothing, and building materials. "The future is wide open," Matthews said.
Matthews expects the company to expand ten-fold in the next year. If that happens the team will control close to 2,000 acres.
This is what one acre of hemp looks like. We checked records at the state agriculture department and discovered there are actually 558 registered acres of hemp right here in Vermont. That's a huge explosion from just a few years ago.
"I've always been interested in cannabis. That sounds a little weird," admitted Tim Schmalz with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Schmalz runs the state's industrialized hemp program. In 2013 state lawmakers passed a bill saying Vermonters could grow hemp despite a federal prohibition on the crop. "We need to be able to assure that they are not growing marijuana and provide assurances to the law enforcement community that this is not a cover for an illegal activity."
Hemp cannot have more than .3-percent of the psychedelic component THC. A public registry helps Schmalz keep tabs on who is growing and where. From eight registrants that first year to 93 now. All have to acknowledge they're breaking federal law. "The evolution of the industry in the last three years in Vermont has been extraordinary to watch," Schmalz said.
For Hausman, hemp is not a hobby. It's a high stakes gamble to save the family farm. When her mother was recently diagnosed with dementia she faced a tough choice -- pay the mortgage or mom's medical bills. "I'm willing to give anything a try at this point in order to save this amazing property," she said.
The question now -- can this crop raise enough cash to save Hausman from the bank?