Pubdate: 2 Apr 1999
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 1999 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Christopher S. Wren, New York Times


Falling prices make option more attractive

BISMARCK, N.D.  -- Dennis Carlson sold his first wheat, grown on a field
borrowed from his parents, in 1975, when he was 14. He earned $4.51 a
bushel and resolved to follow his father, grandfather and great-grandfather
into farming.

Nearly 24 years later, spring wheat is selling for $2.91 a bushel, and
Carlson worries whether he can afford to plant next month. "We're going to
get a low price," he said. "And if we get a bumper crop, it's going to get

Battered by sinking commodity prices and rising costs, Carlson and other
wheat farmers are looking across the Canadian border at a crop they say
could help save them -- if only it were legal. That crop is hemp, a
non-intoxicating look-alike cousin of marijuana grown around the world for
its fiber, seed and oil. But long identified with marijuana both by law
enforcement and the counterculture, it is banned in the United States as
part of the war on drugs.

As farmers from Hawaii to North Dakota to Vermont lobby state legislatures
to study hemp's potential and make it legal, they are opposed by federal
officials unwilling to relax drug laws even symbolically, whether by
endorsing marijuana's medical use, or approving a once-common crop, hemp.

Until recently, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy
asserted that making hemp legal would send the wrong message, "especially
to our youth at a time when adolescent drug use is rising." But in March
its director, McCaffrey, indicated in an interview that his opposition was

"If people believe that hemp fiber can be sold in the marketplace for a
profit, and aren't actually trying to normalize the growing of marijuana
around America, to the extent you want to grow hemp fiber, we'd be glad to
work with you," McCaffrey said. But as a profitable crop, he said, "I think
it's going nowhere."

But in North Dakota, where the Republican-controlled Legislature appears
likely to enact laws promoting hemp, Carlson said: "We're all desperate.
We're trying to find something that will change our outlook, and hemp is
one of many crops."

It does not help that hemp remains identified with the counterculture, its
products -- from oils to clothing -- often sold in shops that sell rolling
papers, pipes and other drug paraphernalia, its cause cheered on by
marijuana advocates.

"They are our worst enemies," said Gale Glenn, a tobacco grower in
Winchester, Ky. "If marijuana didn't exist, hemp would be growing here on
hundreds of thousands of acres."

Legislation to revive hemp passed in Hawaii this month and has been
introduced in legislatures in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Virginia,
Vermont and Hawaii.

The federal Controlled Substances Act says the government does not intend
to prevent states from legislating in this area. But even with state
approval, hemp growers would need permits from the Drug Enforcement
Administration, which so far has resisted.

"There's widespread bipartisan support for this becoming a crop in North
Dakota," state Sen. Joel Heitkamp said. "The problem is at the federal level."

State Rep. David Monson, a farmer, school superintendent and sponsor of the
North Dakota legislation, said, "I think 99 percent of the people in my
district, when you show them the bottom line, they're ready to go."

After Canada made hemp legal a year ago, about 5,000 acres were planted
with hemp, said Geof Kime, president of Hempline, a hemp growing and
processing company in Delaware, Ontario.

Monson recalled watching his neighbor across the border in Manitoba grow 23
acres of hemp that netted about $250 an acre. "When he came out with all
those profits, we were really upset," Monson said. 
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MAP posted-by: Mike Gogulski