Lawmakers Explore Hemp's Potential as Cash Crop

Lawmakers Explore Hemp's Potential as Cash Crop
Posted by FoM on January 31, 2000 at 10:23:24 PT
By Lance Nixon, Argus Leader
Source: Argus Leader
South Dakota lawmakers will discuss this week whether industrial hemp is a potentially lucrative value-added crop for farmers or a headache for law enforcement. The House Agriculture Committee takes up a proposal Tuesday that could open the door to hemp production in South Dakota. 
Supporters say hemp is the honest but misunderstood cousin of the illegal drug marijuana. The plant produces oil, seeds and a fiber that can be used to make clothing and other products. "This is an amazing plant and there's an amazing amount of stuff coming down the pike with this," said Watertown-area dairy farmer Joe Stein. "It's a value-added crop." There is one significant difference between hemp and marijuana, supporters say. Hemp doesn't pack enough of the chemical substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to get someone high. Both plants are varieties of the same species, Cannabis sativa, which is a controlled substance in the United States regardless of its narcotic content. House Bill 1267 sanctions production of industrial hemp with a THC content of 1 percent or less. The bill adds that anyone harvesting, possessing or selling industrial hemp with a THC content greater than that is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, although no violation will be prosecuted unless THC content is greater than 3 percent. But even as Rep. Robert Weber, R-Strandburg, introduced the bill last week, a recent report from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service was downplaying hemp as a new crop for farmers, saying it's likely to remain a "small, thin market." The report pointed out that in Canada, where industrial hemp is legal, the 35,000 acres grown in 1999 oversupplied the North American market. The report adds that hemp oil has poor prospects because it has a short shelf life and can't be used for frying; that the hemp seed market is likely to remain small like the market for sesame and poppy seeds; and that the textile market for hemp fiber, judging by the textile demand for linen derived from the legal crop, flax, is not likely to be profitable. But Bob Newland of Hermosa -- a member of the Libertarian Party who has been pushing the issue with a series of postcards to state lawmakers in recent months -- counters that the market will develop if industrial hemp is legalized. Weber said the bill seems to have a good many supporters in the House, and added that the real effect of the legislation would be to send a message to Washington to change federal policies on hemp. "We're trying to get the federal government to back off and let us raise it like they do in Canada and some other places," he said. Nineteen other states have considered hemp legislation since 1995 and several have approved it. Minnesota and North Dakota allow production if farmers obtain permits from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. But law enforcement officers see some problems with the legislation -- one of them the fact that industrial hemp and marijuana look alike. "It sounds like an enforcement nightmare," said Lt. Mark Moberly of the narcotics section of the Sioux Falls Police Department. "How would you separate the hemp growers from the people who are growing marijuana for recreational use? The alleged difference is the THC level, which you cannot see with the naked eye." Moberly adds that the issue becomes more complicated because proponents of legalizing marijuana frequently piggy-back on the issue of legalizing industrial hemp. In South Dakota there's at least some basis to what Moberly says. Newland is president of the Mt. Rushmore State Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- which is one reason he probably won't be testifying for the hemp bill in Pierre. "As a matter of fact, they have told me to stay home," Newland said. "The prime sponsor did say that I should not testify in favor of the bill because they (lawmakers) connect me with drug legalization." Stein, the Watertown farmer, finds hemp's kinship with marijuana unfortunate. "Hemp compared to marijuana is like comparing a Chihuahua with a pit bull. They're both dogs, but they're very different kinds of dogs." Reach reporter Lance Nixon at 331-2316 or lnixon Published: January 31, 2000Copyright  1997-2000 by Argus Leader. Related Article:Growing Pains - 9/28/2000 News Hemp Related Articles:
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