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'Industrial' hemp support takes root November 22, 2005 - USA Today
David Monson is a conservative Republican in North Dakota's legislature. He's also a farmer who believes that a new cash crop could revitalize his state's agricultural industry, which has been suffering from poor harvests and depressed soy and corn prices.
That policy has led to an explosion in goods containing high-fiber, high-protein hemp that has been fueled by Americans' thirst for organic products — and perhaps by the tie some consumers see between hemp and marijuana, a counterculture symbol for decades. It also has put the cannabis plant at the center of a battle between unlikely foes: angry farmers such as Monson who are leading increasingly vocal calls for the U.S. government to legalize the growing of what's known as "industrial" hemp, and federal anti-drug officials who say that allowing such crops would create a slippery slope toward legalizing marijuana.
Led by Monson, North Dakota's Legislature has passed laws to make hemp farming legal — if the U.S. government ever allows it. The laws would require hemp growers to undergo criminal background checks and agree to subject their plants to tests for THC.
Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Montana and West Virginia also have passed hemp-farming bills. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced such a bill in Congress in June, but it hasn't advanced in the face of opposition by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House's anti-drug office.
The DEA says allowing farmers to grow hemp in the USA would undermine the war on drugs. It says marijuana growers would be able to camouflage their crop with similar-looking hemp plants, and that DEA agents would have difficulty quickly telling the difference.
"Let's not be na?ve," says Tom Riley of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy. "The pro-dope people have been pushing hemp for 20 years because they know that if they can have hemp fields, then they can have marijuana fields. It's ... stoner logic."
Monson says he and his supporters don't intend to grow illegal drugs. "We have answers for all the (DEA's) concerns."
Other North Dakotans say they resent attempts to cast an agricultural and economic issue as a "pothead" movement. "It's a silly argument," says North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Roger Johnson. "Does (Monson) sound like a druggie?"
Johnson says North Dakota and other states are considering a lawsuit to challenge the ban, he says. "It's legal for us to import the (hemp) stalks and the seed and turn them into clothes and food, but it's not legal for us to grow it. What's the sense in that?"
Expanding product lines
During the past five years, hemp products have popped up all over the marketplace.
Health food stores stock Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and French Meadow Bakery's Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread. Celebrities such as Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker have sported Deborah Lindquist's silk and hemp-blend clothing. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jackson Browne and the Foo Fighters have used hemp-blend paper from Living Tree Paper for CD inserts.
"It's growing by leaps and bounds," says Carolyn Moran of Living Tree Paper in Eugene, Ore. Living Tree uses Canadian-grown hemp in its products. She expects sales for the 12-year-old company to double this year to $4 million and to rise because people concerned about the environment "are willing to pay a little more for green products."
Lynn Gordon of the French Meadow Bakery & Caf? in Minneapolis introduced hemp bread to her customers in 2000. "It's high in fiber, high in protein, vitamin E, essentially fatty acids. It's high in everything, but you don't get high from it," Gordon says.
Hemp products still account for only a small percentage of the $15 billion a year market for organic goods, but the Hemp Industries Association says sales are rising by 50% a year. Gero Leson, an agricultural researcher in Berkeley, Calif., says hemp products will account for about $15 million this year in retail food sales and $40 million in cosmetics and body products.
In Canada, hemp farmers are boosting production to meet rising demand, the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance says. Canadian farmers planted more than 24,000 acres of hemp this year, nearly triple the 2004 total.
In 1999, the DEA moved to ban imports and production of hemp food products that could contain trace amounts of THC. Sellers of hemp goods took the government to federal court, and while the case was active many stores declined to stock hemp products. The hemp product sellers won their case in February 2004, and imports of hemp fiber, seed and oil accelerated.
"Now that the DEA cloud over the market has lifted, sales are really exploding," says David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, founded by his grandfather in Escondido, Calif.
Growing hemp used to be legal in the USA. During World War II, the government urged farmers to grow it for much-needed rope and textiles. But in 1970, Congress designated hemp — along with marijuana and heroin — as a "Schedule 1" drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal to grow hemp without a license from the DEA.
Today, the USA is the only developed nation that has not established hemp as a crop, the Congressional Research Service says. Great Britain lifted its ban in 1993; Germany did so in 1996 and Canada followed two years later. The European Union has subsidized hemp production since the 1990s.
Bronner says hemp should be disassociated from illegal drugs. He compares hemp with poppies, which produce both opium and the poppy seeds used on bagels. "A poppy seed has trace amounts of opiates, but they don't hassle (makers of) poppy seed bagels. No one is smoking industrial hemp."
North Dakota's involvement is key, Bronner says. "This is becoming a serious commodity. You have farmers in North Dakota dealing with depressed soy and corn prices. They see Canadians farming industrial hemp. Why are we cutting American farmers out of this rapidly emerging market?"