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'Industrial' Hemp Support Takes Root

Donna Leinwand, USA Today , 23rd November 2005

David Monson is a conservative Republican in North Dakota's legislature. He's also a farmer who believes that a new cash crop could revitalize his state's agricultural industry, which has been suffering from poor harvests and depressed soy and corn prices.

That policy has led to an explosion in goods containing high-fiber, high-protein hemp that has been fueled by Americans' thirst for organic products - and perhaps by the tie some consumers see between hemp and marijuana, a counterculture symbol for decades.

It also has put the cannabis plant at the center of a battle between unlikely foes: angry farmers such as Monson who are leading increasingly vocal calls for the U.S. government to legalize the growing of what's known as "industrial" hemp, and federal anti-drug officials who say that allowing such crops would create a slippery slope toward legalizing marijuana.

Led by Monson, North Dakota's Legislature has passed laws to make hemp farming legal - if the U.S. government ever allows it. The laws would require hemp growers to undergo criminal background checks and agree to subject their plants to tests for THC.

Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Montana and West Virginia also have passed hemp-farming bills. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced such a bill in Congress in June, but it hasn't advanced in the face of opposition by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House's anti-drug office.

The DEA says allowing farmers to grow hemp in the USA would undermine the war on drugs. It says marijuana growers would be able to camouflage their crop with similar-looking hemp plants, and that DEA agents would have difficulty quickly telling the difference.

"Let's not be naive," says Tom Riley of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy. "The pro-dope people have been pushing hemp for 20 years because they know that if they can have hemp fields, then they can have marijuana fields. It's ... stoner logic."

Monson says he and his supporters don't intend to grow illegal drugs. "We have answers for all the (DEA's) concerns."

Other North Dakotans say they resent attempts to cast an agricultural and economic issue as a "pothead" movement. "It's a silly argument," says North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner Roger Johnson. "Does (Monson) sound like a druggie?"

Johnson says North Dakota and other states are considering a lawsuit to challenge the ban, he says. "It's legal for us to import the (hemp) stalks and the seed and turn them into clothes and food, but it's not legal for us to grow it. What's the sense in that?"

Complete Article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-11-22-hemp-crop_x.htm

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