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House Votes to Let Farmers Grow Industrial Hemp

Posted on January 4, 2000

By The Boston Globe

New Hampshire farmers should be allowed to grow industrial hemp under the watchful eye of state and federal authorities, the House voted Wednesday. House lawmakers narrowly defeated a move to study the issue tantamount to a polite death, then voted 181-167 to have the Finance Committee review any cost to the state before bringing the bill back for a final vote.

Hemp is a close relative of marijuana but has a very low content of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Hemp can be grown only with permission from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. But New Hampshire farmers can’t get a federal permit without state agreement.

The bill would let farmers grow hemp after obtaining a permit. The state would issue licenses to grow hemp and be the sole supplier of the seed. The state also would regulate the industry. People with criminal records involving drug offenses within 10 years would not qualify for a permit.

It was sponsored by Rep. Derek Owen, D-Hopkinton, who lost a claim in federal court to grow hemp in September 1998.

Opponents argued the measure would make drug enforcement harder because the hemp plant closely resembles marijuana plants.

Rep. Tony Soltani, R-Epsom, also argued parts of the plant contain high concentrations of THC.

Why do we need hemp? he asked. “We have rope. We have cotton. We have plenty of it.”

He also said it sends the wrong message to children about drugs.

“A little bit of money is not worth it,” he said.

But supporters said that while law enforcement officials worry that marijuana farmers could hide their crops with industrial hemp plants to avoid detection, cross-pollination only would diminish the potency of marijuana.

Supporters also said hemp was an agricultural crop with little relation to its illegal relative.

“Hemp has been grown for over 2,500 years,” said Owen. “It’s used for many, many things. It isn’t about drugs.”

Hemp is used in a wide range of products, from cars to ropes to hand-lotions. The products are sold legally in New Hampshire.

Rep. Amy Robb-Theroux, D-Claremont, said New Hampshire farmers could be making more money growing hemp than corn. She said hemp production is a niche market that could help farmers make a profit.

“We have a market for all of our product,” she said.

Canada started allowing hemp production in 1998. Farmers planted 6,000 acres, claiming profits of as much as $200 an acre at a time when growers struggle just to break even on traditional crops like wheat.

Copyright © 2000, The Boston Globe. All rights reserved.