Pubdate: Thu, 12 Mar 2009
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2009 The Daily Iowan
Bookmark: (Hemp)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers is putting forth legislation
to legalize the growth of cannabis, or hemp. The Industrial Hemp
Development Act (HF 608) would provide licenses to qualified farmers
for the cultivation of hemp, after passing background checks, of
course. Iowa lawmakers must pay close attention to the progress of
Minnesota's hemp act; its success or failure may signal how a similar
act would fair here. Regardless of the reaction of our neighbors to
the north, hemp production will dramatically change the face of
agriculture in America, and Iowans need to be out ahead of this
increasingly popular trend.

Seven states - Hawaii, West Virginia, Maine, Maryland, Montana,
Kentucky, and North Dakota - have legalized hemp production; however,
not one is producing the crop because of resistance from the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration. Hemp farmers in North Dakota are granted
licenses by the state, but they are required to obtain separate
permits from the DEA. The agency has continually refused to accept
applications, leading farmers in North Dakota to file a lawsuit
against the federal government.

A common complaint among law-enforcement agencies at all levels of
government is that monitoring acres of hemp for hidden pockets of
marijuana would be next to impossible. This idea is, in fact, very
reasonable, because hemp and marijuana are members of the same
species, cannabis.

However, centuries of breeding have elicited distinctly different
characteristics in the two plants. Marijuana contains much higher
levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive agent, which
induces a "high." Hemp, on the other hand, has such minuscule amounts
of THC that it is unable to produce the same high. In fact, hemp
contains another chemical, cannabidiol, which is increasingly used as
an antipsychotic.

Despite the plants' botanical distinctions, their visual similarities
are at the root of the problem. Interestingly enough, Minnesota
researchers have developed a way to overcome the issues raised by law
enforcement. George Weiblen, a University of Minnesota associate
professor of plant biology, has established a method of DNA testing
that is able to differentiate hemp from its doppelganger. Using a DNA
technique known as amplified fragment length polymorphism, Weiblen and
a colleague are the first to undeniably distinguish hemp plants from
marijuana plants.

So, if there is a way to discriminate between the two plants, what
benefits could be harvested from the production of industrial hemp?
Hemp is an industrial crop in every industrialized nation except the
United States. Naturally, the U.S. imports more hemp and hemp products
than any other industrialized nation. By growing the crop here, we
could reap the reward of hemp's increasing popularity. The herb has
been touted as a wonder plant for many reasons. Nearly every part of
the plant is usable. Hemp can be used to produce paper, food,
clothing, plastics, and even low-carbon concrete.

The advantages of hemp as a commercial crop have special significance
for Iowans. While soybeans are composed of greater levels of actual
protein, hemp seeds contain more digestible protein. Furthermore,
because of its fast-growing nature, hemp crops produce more energy per
acre of biodiesel or ethanol fuel than corn or any other food crop,
and it is able to do so at a much lower cost and with noticeably less
damage to the soil. Hemp is a hearty plant and can grow on all types
of soil.

By growing hemp, it could be possible to use damaged, exhausted, or
marginal soil, thus reclaiming unused or abandoned land.

Because industrial hemp production could compete with Iowa's two
largest crops, it only makes sense to be out in front of the trend,
leading the way, rather risking the consequences of watching that
market develop without us. Industrial hemp would do much to facilitate
the nation's growing desire for all things "green"; an acre of hemp
produces as much paper as four acres of trees, Europeans are
perfecting a biodegradable plastic made entirely of hemp, and hemp
seeds are an impressive source of protein as well as essential amino
acids. Environmental benefits aside, the economic advantages of
producing hemp in Iowa are certainly worth considering.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin