Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jan 2008
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Rutland Herald
Author: Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Press Bureau


MONTPELIER -- A controversial plant moved through the Statehouse 
without much controversy Wednesday.

Lawmakers in the House Agriculture Committee unanimously approved a 
bill that would allow Vermont farmers to grow hemp, a benign cousin 
of marijuana that boasts a variety of industrial applications.

A federal statute criminalizing the plant supercedes Vermont's 
legislation, so Green Mountain hemp won't go to sprout anytime soon. 
But advocates of the hemp bill say it positions local farmers to 
capitalize on the potentially profitable crop if and when the Drug 
Enforcement Administration finally relents.

"Eventually, the federal government is going to have to change its 
policy on hemp," said Amy Shollenberger, executive director of Rural 
Vermont. "We see this bill ... as making sure farmers in Vermont are 
on the front lines when it does."

Hemp, grown legally in every industrialized country except the United 
States, reaps attractive profit margins for some farmers. Hemp oil, 
derived from seeds, is used in food and beauty products. Hemp's long 
stalks contain fiber and cellulose that can be made into textiles, 
building materials and fuel.

Hemp, among this country's leading agricultural commodities until it 
was banned after World War II, shares a close genetic association 
with marijuana.  Though the two plants belong to the same species, 
cannabis sativa, industrial hemp carries a maximum of 0.3 percent 
THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.  Marijuana generally 
contains at least 5 percent THC.

Bills similar to the one proposed in Vermont have passed in about a 
half-dozen other states. The nationwide hemp legalization effort has 
drawn fire from law enforcement officials who say hemp crops would 
undermine their ability to eradicate marijuana.

Law enforcement officials in Vermont did not respond to an interview 
request for this story.

Rep. David Zuckerman, a Burlington Progressive, chairs the House 
Agriculture Committee. He said Wednesday that testimony from law 
enforcement officials in Canada, where hemp is legal, indicate the 
two plants are easily distinguished.

"The reality, we've learned, is that should not be a concern," 
Zuckerman said. "Clearly, the 11-0 vote out of committee shows that 
the knowledge we learned created support across a broad political spectrum."

Rep. Albert Perry, D-Richford, said he was skeptical of the bill when 
it was first introduced in 2007.

"When we first took up this bill, my own reaction to it was 'Why 
would we want to do that?'" Perry said. "As we got into it more, my 
reaction was 'Why wouldn't we want to do that?'"

Lawmakers in the Agriculture Committee said they hope to see the bill 
go to a floor vote soon. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake