HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Hemp Bill Questions Remain
Pubdate: Tue, 05 Mar 2002
Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)
Copyright: 2002 Charleston Daily Mail
Author: Sam Tranum


House Passes Proposal, But Legality Still Up In Air

A bill that would legalize cultivation of industrial hemp in West Virginia 
has been moving smoothly through the Legislature.

But even if it becomes law, West Virginians might not be able to grow the 
marijuana-like plant without breaking the law, said Bill Steffick of the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Monday to advance the bill. It has 
already been approved by the Senate.

The legislation would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp for use in 
products like clothing, rope, paper, bath products and car dashboards.

The issue is controversial because hemp is closely related to marijuana. 
The bill's proponents say the most important difference between the two 
plants is that ingesting industrial hemp won't get a person high.

"Industrial hemp is in the same family as marijuana but so are snakes and 
lizards in the same family and they're totally different," said Sen. Karen 
Facemyer, R-Jackson, who is lead sponsor of the bill.

However low the concentration is, industrial hemp still contains a small 
amount of the key hallucinogenic ingredient from marijuana, Steffick said.

"Any product that contains any amount of THC is a schedule one controlled 
substance," he said.

By that logic, growing industrial hemp is illegal.

"Any company that would be doing this, since the grace period has expired, 
would be guilty of a violation of law," Steffick said.

It seems simple but rule changes -- the most recent was Feb. 6 -- regarding 
the status of industrial hemp have apparently made the plant's status with 
the Drug Enforcement Administration a little unclear.

"I would imagine that a lot of this -- as long as we don't get involved 
with the human consumption issue -- a lot of this will resolve itself," 
Steffick said about growing industrial hemp.

What's the bottom line? Is it legal to grow, manufacture, buy or sell 
industrial hemp that is not for human consumption?

"You have some questions there that I basically can't answer because this 
is just an area that there's going to have to be some more discussion on 
this," Steffick said.

He referred further questions to his agency's Washington headquarters. No 
representative from that office was available for comment Monday afternoon.

Facemyer has said that the state would need to work with the Drug 
Enforcement Administration to move forward with growing industrial hemp. 
Under her legislation, the Department of Agriculture would be charged with 
regulating the crop.

Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Steve Hannah said he did not know what 
process the state would have to work through with the Drug Enforcement 

"To be honest with you I'm not absolutely sure," he said. "I guess if that 
bill passes we'll get to work on it and find out."

But he said he supports the legalization of the crop.

"We support any alternative crop that will bring income and increase farm 
income to West Virginia farmer," Hannah said.

Hawaii passed legislation in 1999 similar to what West Virginia is now 
considering. The state is finding out first hand how the Drug Enforcement 
Administration treats industrial hemp cultivation.

A single, privately funded, experimental plot of the crop is growing in the 
Aloha State, said a legislative analyst for Hawaii State Representative 
Cynthia Thielen, a proponent of the state's industrial hemp project.

The crop is being cultivated by academic researchers at an undisclosed 
location, surrounded by barbed wire and protected by a security system, 
Melody Heidel said.

She said the bill approved by the Hawaii state legislation to legalize the 
test plot is going to expire soon. Hawaii's Legislature is considering 
legislation that would extend the deadline.

"Part of the issue is that three years really is not enough time 
agriculturally to have really accurate results," Heidel said.

Despite the obstacles, Heidel was optimistic about hemp's prospects in 
Hawaii. This year's legislation will likely pass, she said.

Thielen does not have any data on the effect the cultivation of industrial 
hemp might have on Hawaii's economy, Heidel said. But a wide range of 
products can be manufactured out of the crop so if Hawaii grows industrial 
hemp, there will be a market, she said.

It's the same argument Facemyer made Monday at West Virginia's Capitol. The 
United States imports $300 million worth of hemp annually, she told 
Judiciary Committee members.

"This is probably one of the biggest economic development packages we have 
in front of us this year," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens