Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jun 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Authors: Kristen Wyatt and Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Page: A6
Bookmark: (Hemp)


Although Legal to Cultivate, Legal Barriers Abound

STERLING, Colo. (AP) - Marijuana's square cousin, industrial hemp, 
has come out of the black market and is now legal for farmers to 
cultivate, opening up a new lucrative market. That was the idea, anyway.

Would-be hemp farmers are having mixed success navigating red tape on 
everything from seed acquisition to processing the finished plant. It 
will take years, farmers and regulators agree, before there's a 
viable market for hemp.

Hemp is prized for oils, seeds and fiber, but its production was 
prohibited for five decades because the plant can be manipulated to 
enhance a psychoactive chemical, THC, making the drug marijuana. The 
Farm Bill enacted this year ended decades of required federal 
permission to raise hemp, but only with state permission and checks 
to make sure the hemp doesn't contain too much THC.

Fifteen states have removed barriers to hemp production, though only 
two states are forging ahead this year - Colorado and Kentucky. Both 
struggled to get their nascent hemp industries off the ground.

"We're just going to try and see if this works," said Jim Brammer, a 
Colorado alfalfa and hay farmer who acquired one of the state's 114 
licenses to raise hemp.

Brammeragreed to let activists try the crop on a single acre of land 
in exchange for a cut of the proceeds, if any materialize. He's not 
optimistic. "If it comes in nice, then great. If not, then at least 
we tried something new," Brammer said.

A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service pegged hemp 
imports at $11.5 million in 2011, a tiny sum relative to other 
imported crops. That study concluded that despite an ardent fan base 
and a market activists peg at about $100 million a year, "the world 
market for hemp products remains relatively small."

And U.S. farmers won't even be able to tap that small market without 
federal authorities removing barriers to seed acquisition.

Kentucky's first industrial hemp plantings were delayed for much of 
May, when federal authorities ordered nearly 300 pounds of hemp seeds 
from Italy detained by U.S. customs officials in Louisville.

State agriculture authorities sued the Justice Department, the Drug 
Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and 
Attorney General Eric Holder to seek the seeds. DEA eventually 
relented, issuing a permit to allow limited hemp plantings for 
research in Kentucky.

Back in Colorado, there's been no federal help acquiring seeds, 
despite a letter from Gov. John Hickenlooper this year requesting 
permission to import Canadian hemp seeds. Instead, Colorado 
authorities are taking a don't-ask-don't-tell approach.

Brammer got his seeds from hemp-legalization activists who won't say 
where they got them. Colorado farmers without such a connection are 
either buying black-market seeds for as much as $10 each, or giving 
up entirely on growing hemp for now.

"I don't have an ounce of seed and I'm not going to the black market 
to get it," said John Lappart, who grows wheat and millet in Holyoke, 
Colorado, near the Nebraska border. Lappart was awarded a 
hemp-cultivation license and planned to try the crop on 8 acres, but 
he abandoned the idea.

Seed acquisition is just the first problem, Lappart said. He wasn't 
sure how he'd get the hemp seeds pressed for oil, or what he'd do 
with the fibrous parts of the plant.

Brammer is far from confident his hemp experiment will be worth the trouble.

He's surrounding his crop with a 5-foot buffer of sudan grass, a 
tall-growing cover crop intended to hide the hemp from curious 
passers-by. The hemp activists are working to acquire a pressing 
machine from Germany to process the seeds into oil. If the presser 
doesn't materialize, Brammer said with a wry smile, his hemp 
experiment might be over soon after it began.

"If it's not sold, we'll just grind it up, feed it to the cattle, I 
guess," Brammer said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom