Denver, Colorado — Under pressure from the White House drug czar, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is planning to classify industrial-use hemp as the most serious narcotic drug, such as heroin and cocaine.
Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader disclosed the plan Monday and blasted government efforts to crack down on farmers who want to grow industrial-use hemp for use in food, cosmetics, carpets and paper products.
“Industrialized hemp is not a drug,” Nader said, contending that the industrialized version of the marijuana plant has lower levels of psychoactive chemicals than plants grown for human consumption. “Smoking it will give you a headache, not a high.”
Nader said both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations.
Jeffery Gain, a member of the North American Industrial Hemp Council and president of the Blue Ridge Co. in Illinois, said allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp would help preserve small farms, and provide local economies with more jobs to process hemp into a variety of products and foods. “The crop is good for the environment, and it’s good for the economy,” Gain said.
Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, acknowledged the agency is redrafting the regulations concerning hemp and marijuana, but said she cannot discuss what the result might be, or when they will be published.
“We are working on some clarification of that subject,” she said.
Congress sought to discourage growing marijuana and hemp under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which imposed stiff taxes on production of the weed. But the United States allows $200 million worth of imports of hemp food and fiber products each year mainly from Canada and China, and U.S. farmers say they should be allowed to participate in the market for the product.
White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey wants to outlaw any hemp use, contending it sends the wrong message about drug abuse in the United States to permit legal sales of any form of the marijuana plant.
He also has argued that hemp-based foods could distort drug-testing programs. Hemp seeds are used in nut bars sold at health food stores.
Nader said hemp crops would yield farmers from $308 to $410 an acre, compared to the $103 to $137 per acre gained from growing canola.
“The DEA’s intrusion into the realm of agriculture is preventing American farmers from growing a crop that has the potential to help address the global depletion of forest resources, the dependency on foreign oil, the harmful effects of petrochemicals, the excessive use of pesticides for fiber crops, and the economic depression of farming communities,” he said.
State legislatures in California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota and Montana have passed pro-hemp legislation. Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Tennessee are considering similar measures.
Lance Gay is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service.
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