Pubdate: Wed, 23 Jan 2008
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Rutland Herald
Author: Peter Hirschfield, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Inside the Statehouse, mounted to a wall in the House Agriculture
Committee room, is a World War II-era poster asking patriotic citizens
to "Grow Hemp for the War."

The framed relic harkens back to a time when hemp flourished as one of
the country's premier agricultural commodities. Thomas Jefferson
himself called hemp a "first necessity to the wealth and protection of
the country." The first two drafts of the U.S. Constitution were
penned on hemp paper.

Hemp's reputation has since fallen on hard times. A victim of guilt by
genetic association, hemp was outlawed after World War II in an effort
to clamp down on its psychotropic cousin, marijuana.

Before the end of the 2008 session, however, lawmakers here could cast
votes on a bill aimed at resurrecting the crop in Vermont.

"People in general are convinced it's not a bogeyman, and in fact it
may be a good step in laying the groundwork for another economic
opportunity for farmers," Rep. David Zuckerman, a Burlington
Progressive, said Tuesday.

Hemp, legally grown in every industrialized country except the United
States, has numerous industrial applications. The seeds are processed
into food and beauty products; the long stalks contain fiber and
cellulose that can be made into textiles, building materials and fuel.

But hemp, a strain of cannabis sativa, shares its species with
marijuana. Though hemp has barely detectable levels of THC, the active
ingredient in marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Agency, which wields
federal jurisdiction over hemp cultivation, draws no legal distinction
between the two plants.

David Monson, a state representative from North Dakota, spearheaded
efforts to legalize hemp in his state after a fungus outbreak blighted
wheat and barley crops there. He traveled to Vermont this week to
speak with lawmakers about the merits of hemp legalization.

Though federal law enforcement officials have suggested that
legalizing hemp is tantamount to legalizing marijuana, Monson said
North Dakotans have dispelled that myth.

"We have made it very clear that we are against the legalization of
marijuana, even for medicinal use," Monson said Tuesday.

Though hemp shares visual characteristics with marijuana, Monson said
the industrial crop is easily distinguished from bushier marijuana
plants. As for the argument that hemp plantations could be used to
shield illegal marijuana crops, Monson said cross-pollination would
hurt the potency, and sale price, of marijuana.

"I'm just a farmer," Monson said. "We're not in any way, shape or form
trying to legalize marijuana."

Vermont's proposed hemp legislation limits the THC content of hemp
plants and requires hemp growers to register with the state.

State law enforcement officials did not return calls seeking comment
on the bill Tuesday.

Amy Shollenberger, director of Rural Vermont, said at least a few
farmers have expressed interest in growing hemp, though it's difficult
to gauge the potential economic benefits.

Even if Vermont joins five other states in passing hemp legislation,
Vermont farmers would likely face the same federal obstacles impeding
hemp cultivation in North Dakota, where the DEA has thus far refused
to grant federal hemp-growing licenses to farmers in his state.

Still, Zuckerman said, a united front by states may compel the federal
government to ease hemp restrictions.

"As more states do this, it will force Congress to revisit the issue,"
Zuckerman said.
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath