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State ag commissioners on a quest to make hemp farming legal

Agriculture.com Staff 02/23/2006 @ 11:12am

Agriculture commissioners from four states met with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials last week to explore acceptable rules on industrial hemp farming.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, along with ag commissioners from Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin, met with DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph Rannazzisi, Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Gleason, and Chief of Congressional Affairs Eric Akres.

"The DEA people were very cordial, but they told us that the process of legalizing the production of industrial hemp will be extremely complicated under existing federal law," Johnson said. "The DEA has never responded to our earlier inquiries, but today we were able to present our case and learn from them what may be required in terms of regulations and safeguards."

North Dakota and West Virginia already have laws on the books that allow hemp farming, but the DEA claims it has the authority to regulate the crop under the Controlled Substances Act, and considers growing it to be cultivation of marijuana.

However, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) won a major federal court decision in 2004 that blocks the DEA from banning hemp products made from the seed and fiber of the cannabis plant, as expressed in the federal government’s statutory definition of marijuana.

"We are pleased that North Dakota is issuing hemp farming regulations after consulting with the DEA," says.

"We hope the meeting with the DEA is an indication that they are finally willing to discuss how US farmers can legally grow hemp like their counterparts in Canada, Europe and Asia," said Eric Steenstra, president of the non-profit group Vote Hemp, which aims to legalize the growing of non-psychoactive, low-THC industrial hemp. "Ideally the finish line won’t be limited to a handful of states, however even one state growing hemp would make a major impact on the availability of raw materials for US hemp manufacturers. Many of hemp’s uses such as foods, animal bedding, biofuel and paper will become more viable if hemp is treated like any other crop."

In addition to North Dakota, pro-hemp farming laws have been passed in Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia. California and Vermont currently have legislation pending on the issue.

According to Vote Hemp, US retail sales of hemp products are estimated to be $250 to $300 million per year. Canadian farmers cultivate more than 24,000 acres of hemp per year, and Europeans grow more than 40,000 acres.

Agriculture commissioners from four states met with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials last week to explore acceptable rules on industrial hemp farming.

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