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Lawmaker From Strandburg Won’t Give Up on Hemp

Posted on May 24, 2000

Legalization would help save some family farms, says Weber.

By Joe Kafka, Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Pierre, South Dakota — Despite the South Dakota Legislature’s rejection of two measures to allow growth and marketing of industrial hemp in South Dakota, a supporter of the effort says he’s not giving up.

Rep. Bob Weber, R-Strandburg, who is a farmer, says legalization of hemp could help ensure the survival of some family farms.

“It would be a chance for a smaller farm to still make a living,” he says. “In Canada, they’re making up to $600 an acre on hemp.”

Canada legalized hemp in 1998. The crop may also be grown legally in 31 other countries. It once was grown in the United States but was made illegal in 1937 when the federal government outlawed marijuana, a close cousin.

A federal permit is required to grow hemp in test plots, but the Drug Enforcement Administration will not issue permits in states without hemp regulations.

A bill to let South Dakota farmers raise hemp was killed in February by the state House Agriculture Committee, followed by full House defeat of a resolution urging the federal government to remove barriers to the production of industrial hemp.

Weber was prime sponsor of both measures.

Facts about hemp:

  • Hemp is a stalky plant that typically reaches heights of 8 to 12 feet.
  • The first use of hemp in North America is attributed to the Puritans in New England, who used it with flax to produce cloth.
  • Known for its strong fiber, hemp is used in a range of products: clothing, canvas, rope, fiberglass, insulation, vehicle clutch- and brake-liners, cement and paper.
  • Hemp seeds can be pressed for oil, which is used in skin lotions, shampoos, soap and cosmetics.
  • Hemp butter is considered superior to peanut butter in Russia.

Although he is barred by term limits from seeking re-election to the House, the 28-year legislator said other lawmakers are interested in reintroducing hemp legislation next year. And Weber said there is a chance he’ll run for the state Senate as an independent, and if elected, reintroduce the bill himself.

“During World War II, my dad raised hemp,” he said. “It was grown in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The government gave you the seed to plant because we were short on hemp from other countries.”

Hemp can be turned into textiles, paper, construction materials and a variety of other products. Though it’s illegal to grow hemp in the United States, hemp products may be imported.

Hemp critics say there is no market for the crop in the United States, but the people pushing hemp production say new uses and markets will develop once investors and companies realize there is a steady supply of the crop.

Weber’s hemp measures ran into legislative opposition when law officers complained that legalization of hemp would complicate enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. Law enforcement officers fear hemp could be used to camouflage the marijuana trade.

Opponents also worry that people may smoke hemp to get high.

Marijuana typically contains 3 percent to 15 percent of the active ingredient that makes pot smokers euphoric. Hemp typically has less than 1 percent of the hallucinogen.

“It’s so low that you could smoke it all day, and about all you’d do is get sick,” Weber counters.

His bill, which was killed 10-2 in committee, said anyone registered with the Agriculture Department could grow, process and sell low-potency industrial hemp.

Hemp’s possibilities as an alternative crop for some farmers were dashed a third time when the Legislature’s Executive Board was deciding on interim studies last month. A suggestion that hemp be a study topic was ignored.

“It’s kind of like Jerusalem artichokes,” said Sen. Bob Duxbury, D-Wessington, who is a farmer. “There’s no market for it.”

The Jerusalem artichoke is a native North American sunflower that humans can eat as a gourmet vegetable. It may also be used to make beer, wine and sweeteners, and it may be fed to livestock.

Jerusalem artichokes were pitched years ago as a miracle crop, but quickly fell into disfavor.

Copyright © 2000, Sioux Falls Argus Leader. All rights reserved.

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