The Crusade For Industrial Hemp

The Crusade For Industrial Hemp
Posted by CN Staff on November 04, 2002 at 07:24:18 PT
By Roselyn Tantraphol, Courant Staff Writer 
Source: Hartford Courant 
Describe it however you like - cannabis hemp, industrial hemp, or, technically, "a crop containing 1 percent or less THC, the active ingredient in marijuana." University of Massachusetts student Jason Burk just asks that you don't call it a drug.Burk, a senior at the UMass Amherst campus, has for a decade supported the legalization of industrial hemp farming. But this year, he said, he decided it was time to get something done.
In this election-year tale of one student's attempt to change the system, Burk hit the pavement, taking petitions to grocery stores, post offices and sports events. Working mainly on his own, the 26-year-old advocate secured enough signatures to get a nonbinding question on the Nov. 5 ballot for a rural section of western Massachusetts. Voters in the Greenfield area will be asked whether their state representative should be instructed to vote in favor of allowing licensed farmers to grow cannabis hemp for "legitimate agricultural and industrial purposes." The question defines hemp as a crop with less than 1 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol - or what gives marijuana its kick.Although this is a nonbinding question in a small district in a state embroiled in far bigger election-year decisions, Burk is optimistic about the potential. He says he believes the question will pass, and intends to use the vote to help him persuade a representative to file a bill on the matter. "For environmental reasons, it's pretty absurd not to grow it," he said. "There's no psychoactive value to it." Then, repeating the phrase he has emphasized this campaign season, Burk said, "It's essentially like outlawing powdered sugar because it looks like cocaine."Burk, a resident of Orange, said he was motivated by sheer frustration that something he sees as an environmental no-brainer - and something that makes financial sense for struggling farmers - is illegal because of an association with getting high. In conversation, he casually rattles off the benefits of hemp, which include flame-retardant plywood that can be made from the woody core of the stalk and paper yielded from its fibers. "You can make paper that's better than tree-based paper, without having to cut trees," he said. Hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant, is a cousin of marijuana. Marijuana is culled from buds and leaves of plants that typically have THC levels of between 5 percent and 20 percent, while hemp refers to the stalk or sterilized seeds of plants with THC levels below 1 percent.The United States effectively prohibited hemp farming in the 1930s, lifting the ban during World War II before imposing restrictions again. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that because hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant, prohibitions on one are prohibitions on the other. Officials have said it's difficult for agents to distinguish between the two, and some opponents of legalizing hemp farming say these efforts are part of a move to eventually legalize pot.A number of states, including Montana and North Dakota, have passed legislation allowing industrial hemp farming. But because federal rules trump their votes, farmers have to bide their time, said David Monson, a Republican state representative in North Dakota. A 1999 bill Monson sponsored to allow hemp farming handily passed, and the state has already established licensing procedures. "It's all sitting there waiting for the time the feds say, `Yep, go ahead,'" Monson said. That bill was just one of a set of bills related to hemp that have passed in that state. "If you're not in favor of it, you probably won't get elected in North Dakota," he said. Monson said that in his northeastern corner of the state, wet conditions over the past decade have battered wheat and barley crops. "We need something else for rotation. We can't make money out of it," he said.It's not only farmers like Monson who see hemp as a miracle crop. For Burk, the environmental and financial logic of hemp is what makes it impossible to ignore in his district, which covers the towns of Athol, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Orange and Warwick.But Mark Lattanzi of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, which promotes products from area farms, said none of the farmers the group works with is even considering growing hemp. It's seen as too much of a long shot. "People have a lot of other things to worry about than this crop, and whether it would be allowed to be planted," he said.If the question is voted down Election Day, Burk said his next move would be a hemp awareness campaign. "And maybe," he said, "try it again in two years." Note: Student Gets Issue On District Ballot In Massachusetts. Source: Hartford Courant (CT)Author: Roselyn Tantraphol, Courant Staff WriterPublished: November 4, 2002Copyright: 2002 The Hartford CourantContact: letters courant.comWebsite: News Hemp Links Hemp Archives
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