Pubdate: Wed, 25 Aug 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press
Author: Blake Nicholson


BISMARCK, N.D. - A planned industrial hemp cooperative in North
Dakota is causing a stir among farmers, and government officials
concerned that the co-op is promising something it can't legally deliver.

Dustin Mathern, who formed the Fargo-based HempCo earlier this month
with Janet Miller, another Fargo resident, said details of the co-op
are still being worked out but that they include establishing
processing plants.

Raising hemp, a cousin of marijuana, is illegal. Mathern said he's
working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to find a way to
legally grow the crop. DEA officials did not immediately return calls
seeking comment Tuesday.

"We're just getting the ball rolling," Mathern said, adding that if
HempCo isn't able to process industrial hemp it likely would be an
organization dedicated to promoting legalization of the product.

This week, the state Department of Agriculture has received at least a
dozen calls from hopeful farmers looking for more information on the

John Leppert, noxious weeds specialist with the department, said
HempCo has done nothing wrong.

However, "We're concerned that information may be floating out there
that farmers can rush out to join a co-op and they can raise hemp and
process it," he said.

Hemp, which is used to make clothes, paper, cosmetics and other goods,
does not produce a high, but it is still illegal in the United States
to grow it.

During North Dakota's last legislative session, lawmakers ordered hemp
be removed from a state list of noxious weeds that have to be
eradicated and instituted a system for licensing growers should hemp
production ever become legal.

Nevertheless, Leppert said, "federal law still supersedes state law on
this issue. There's no way (the co-op) is going to be able to do it."

Not only is it illegal to grow hemp in the United States, it also is
against the law to import raw hemp into the country, he said.

The agriculture department on Monday informed HempCo of

"I certainly hope the DEA will modify its position, and allow our
producers the opportunity to grow hemp to compete in the world
marketplace with this versatile and increasingly valuable commodity,"
state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said. "But for right now
it's simply against the law."

The co-op has sparked interest in the farming community, which has
been plagued in recent years by poor prices for most crops.

Tim Brinkman, who grows small grains near Bismarck, said that even
though he knows growing hemp is illegal, he still plans to contact
HempCo to get more information on efforts to legalize hemp production.

"Admittedly it's an uphill battle all the way," he said. "But
somebody's got to fight the fight."

Two other Janet Millers who live in Fargo but aren't the Miller
associated with the co-op project say they've received wrong-number
calls from numerous farmers looking for information. Both said they're
not upset about the calls.

"It's fine -- we like farmers," said Raymond Miller, the husband of
one of the Janets.
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