KINGSTON, N.Y. — The Ulster County Legislature is considering a resolution that would make hemp insulation the first choice for insulating new county buildings and during renovations of existing county-owned buildings.

Chris Hewitt, D-Rochester, the resolution’s sponsor, said if hemp is ultimately not chosen for a project an explanation would need to be provided as to why it’s not feasible. He added that the resolution is currently before the legislature’s Public Works and Energy, Environment and Sustainability committees and he hopes to bring it to the floor for a vote in July.

Hewitt said switching to hemp insulation from fiberglass or petrochemical-based products currently used will offer enormous environmental, health and economic benefits to the county.

“I think the future of sustainability is in industrial hemp,” he said. “We can’t require it for everyone at this point.”

The legislation would only apply to county-owned buildings, he said.

Hewitt said he has strong support for the legislation in the Energy, Environment and Sustainability Committee. He added that he accepted a suggestion by Legislator Kathy Nolan, D-Shandaken, to take another month and make more tweaks.

Hewitt said he’s making those tweaks now but he does not plan to incorporate Nolan’s suggestion that the legislation should be expanded to include other greener insulation options such as mycelium or cellulose. He added that believes it’s best to stick with hemp for now. Products like mycelium are already in the building code and are still “speculative” at this point, according to Hewitt.

“We have farmers with land to plant industrial hemp,” he said. “Cornell (Cooperative Extension) has the knowledge to bring it back. We’re past prohibition and ready to work with industrial uses of the plant.”

This would revive a tradition spanning thousands of years of using hemp to make ropes, clothes, fabrics, fuels and foods, he said. “We lost all that knowledge after 80 years.”

Hewitt said the public is ready to move past the “reefer madness” movement that was supported in no small part by corporate interests such as chemical giant DuPont, the cotton industry and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

Hewitt also said hemp-based insulation provides high thermal value and “R-value” which resists the cold during winter. “I think we’ll find buildings with hemp insulation are saving us money and we’ll choose to retrofit,” he added.

Hemp-based insulation is far less toxic than the pink fiberglass stuff or expanding foams that contain volatile organic compounds and other harmful chemicals, Hewitt said.

“Instead of using expanding foam, we could use hemp insulation,” Hewitt said. The product could sequester carbon dioxide instead of leading to more emissions, he added.

Beyond industrial hemp’s environmental benefits, it could also offer Ulster County economic benefits with the ability to source the fibers and herd from the cannabis plant within the county.

Hewitt said he was inspired in no so small part by Henry Gage Jr. and Sally Warren, who own a home at 74 Foxhall Ave. insulated with hemp-lime insulation, and Build Green Now LLC.

“They come to county meetings, they come to committees and are part of the reason the movement is going forward,” he said.

Hewitt said he envisions the benefits of hemp extending across the county, with fabrics being made in one town, fuels in another and insulation in another a third. A former industrial site like iPark 87 in the town of Ulster could house a hemp decorticator, which dismantles biomass that is currently being burned or buried and could instead go into making things, he said.

Beyond insulation, Hewitt sees other uses for industrial hemp. “Some people call it a miracle plant,” he said. “You can make thousands of things with it.”

He said this could include hemp blocks, hempcrete and using hemp seeds to make biodiesel fuel similar to the soy-based fuel the Catskill Mountain Railroad recently switched to for powering the locomotives used on its scenic train operation that operates out of Kingston Plaza.

“It’s better than corn biodiesels,” Hewitt said. “That product affects the price of food. … This isn’t affecting food.”

Hemp grows very rapidly with outdoor farmers being able to harvest two crops per season, Hewitt said. He added for every four acres of trees needed to make paper you’d only need one acre of hemp.

Hewitt said that the legislation could help the county achieve its goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030.

“It’s very sustainable,” Hewitt said. “The word sustainability is a bit ambiguous until you introduce industrial hemp, then you can fund sustainability around it. It could be the future of our local economy in a way that gives back to the earth.”