Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jul 2011 Source: Free Times (SC) Copyright: 2011sPortico Publications, Ltd. Contact: http://www.free-times.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2399 Author: Corey Hutchins MARIJUANA ACTIVISTS: INDUSTRIAL HEMP COULD REVITALIZE S.C. ECONOMY Group Says Rural Areas Could Benefit Dezz Archie, the executive director of the Columbia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, doesn't want you to think his nonprofit group is all about half-baked ideas on how to make it legal to puff and grow the green stuff - it's more interested in using weed to grow the state's sputtering economy. "We're really changing up our approach to how cannabis could affect South Carolina," Archie, 22, said on a recent Sunday over coffee at Cool Beans near the University of South Carolina campus. Ordinarily, pot activists tend to get a bad rap - what with the 4/20 rallies and the public's general preconceptions - and local NORML chapters in recent years haven't been all that active. Archie's new NORML is trying to change that. Yes, these reform activists one day want the right to legally light up in the privacy of their own homes or get a cannabis scrip from their local doctor, but right now there's more at stake - like jobs. "As far as medical, that's all good - and decriminalization, too - but one of the things we're focusing on most is industrial hemp," Archie says. "There are a lot of farms in a lot of rural areas in this agricultural state that are not being used. There are people out of jobs in mill towns. This is perfect to evolve as a cash crop to be distributed throughout the nation. We could be one of the biggest hubs for that - South Carolina's perfect for it. The climate is actually ideal for hemp growth throughout much of the year." Twenty-nine states have introduced laws authorizing hemp research or industrial hemp agriculture, and 17 have passed them, according to Vote Hemp, a national, single-issue nonprofit dedicated to shifting the federal regulation of hemp to the state level. Often touted as the world's strongest fiber, hemp has been used for anything from paper to parachutes and is also a nutritious food source. But according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana - therefore growing it remains illegal on the federal level. However, hemp activists say hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant - and you can't get high off hemp. In 2007, Bluffton Republican Rep. Bill Herbkersman - that's right, Herbkersman - introduced a bill that would have created a committee to study the beneficial uses of industrial hemp in South Carolina. At the time, he told reporters it could help bolster the farm-based economy by providing a new crop to offset declining tobacco growth. But the bill never went anywhere. For his part, former Conway Republican Rep. William Witherspoon, who was the bill's co-sponsor and then-chairman of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs committee, and is now retired, says he doesn't remember such a bill. Meanwhile, the chief sponsor of a different bill that would have allowed medical marijuana in the Palmetto State, Lowcountry Republican Sen. Bill Mescher - who was known as a tenacious legislative bulldog and was instrumental in legalizing tattooing here - has died. His bill, apparently, has been buried along with him. But with unemployment in South Carolina back in the double digits, the idea of a new industrial economy - regardless of the what the feds say - - might get more than a passing thought. Consider the Legislature's recent push to make the Palmetto State a haven for the incandescent light bulb after the federal government moved to phase out the existence of the old-school bulbs for environmental reasons. Archie hopes that's the case, and insists that the Columbia chapter of NORML will be active in the next legislative session when it comes to looking for any lawmakers willing to stick their neck out for a controversial cause. "Right now if you look around, look at the media ... people know the deal," he says. "They know that marijuana isn't something on the same level as crack or heroin. People are starting to kind of take the blinders off and realize that, hey, the economy is horrible and it's not getting any better. They see how much is going on in California and Colorado and places out West. You can't hide it anymore." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.