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Hemp Hype

Posted on October 8, 2000

Minot man wants to be first to open hemp store in state

Minot, North Dakota — Rob Robinson of Minot has a plan, but he is disappointed. He wants to be the first person in North Dakota to open a retail store devoted exclusively to products made from industrial hemp. He is disappointed, however, because he believes too many people remain naive about the differences between hemp and marijuana. Despite that, he intends to continue pursuing his marquee idea.

“Education is really my motivation,” Robinson says. “My grandmother was a teacher who instilled in us at a young age that misinformation is wrong. I want to educate people on the differences.”

Robinson thinks the masses believe that the flora cousins of hemp and marijuana are one and the same. In fact, they are, according to current U.S. federal law which makes no legal distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. The human eye can hardly see the difference. The leaves look identical and both plants smell the same.

But the biological makeup of these plants are quite different, according to Robinson. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, barely exists in industrial hemp. He compares the difference with that of poppy seeds, saying one variety of poppy seed is used for lemon muffins while the other is used to extract opium.

Drug Enforcement Agency personnel claim that if industrial hemp would become unrestricted in the United States, opportunists would attempt to hide marijuana within fields of industrial hemp. Robinson disagrees. He says that one plant will cancel out the effectiveness of the other. In other words, cross pollination will destroy the “high” value in marijuana rendering it worthless to those who try to sell it. Cross pollination also destroys the strength of the hemp plant that would otherwise be harvested for fiber.

Educating the public on industrial hemp will be a colossal task for Robinson because of current stereotypes surrounding hemp and marijuana. There are numerous places around the country called “head shops” that are selling hemp products, along with drug paraphernalia. Under no circumstances will Robinson have that type of association. He believes any alliance with those types of products or labeling is counter-productive.

“Sativa’s Closet is a huge hemp store in the Mall of America. Unfortunately, it’s also a head shop,” Robinson says. “But it’s rope. It’s not dope.” Robinson plans to fashion his store after an online store called Planet Hemp.

Robinson has already taken the first steps to educate the public regarding industrial hemp. He has spoken with North Dakota House Majority Leader David Monson about presenting hemp information to the Minot School Board and various school boards across the state. Monson, perhaps the strongest industrial hemp proponent in North Dakota, is superintendent of Edinburg Public Schools in Walsh County and farms near Osnabrock in Cavalier County.

According to Robinson, favorable publicity will also help in his crusade to make hemp a household word in North Dakota. It will help with educating people about industrial hemp, he says. It will get farmers interested in growing it and it will prove to investors that industrial hemp is fast becoming a popular commodity around the globe.

Last year the North Dakota Legislature was the first in the United States to legalize industrial hemp. Robinson believes that will help in his drive to open a store in Minot and it will eventually help financially strapped farmers who are looking for a profitable alternative to wheat and barley.

“What Governor (Ed) Schafer did in signing HB1428 making industrial hemp legal was a great service to our farmers,” Robinson says. “Now we need a delegation to take this to Congress. This will help individual farmers and it will benefit the entire state as a whole. We were the first state to sign the bill. We should be the first state to do intensive research and we should be the first state to produce a cash crop.”

He adds, however, that the DEA enforces its strict federal regulation that circumvents the new North Dakota law. But it sends a message to Congress that North Dakota is ready to start giving its farmers a way to make some good money for a change.

Growing hemp is actually legal in the United States, but Robinson says the guidelines are so strict and so expensive, nobody can afford to do it. It takes a DEA permit, a 10-foot chain link fence on all four sides with razor wire at the top of a field and any field must be lit and have a 24-hour guard posted. By contrast, a permit is the only requirement in Canada for those without a police record.

“Right now we still have the DEA with their foot against the door,” Robinson explains. “The DEA is hammering down on Canadian imports and turning some away with seeds. A lot of Canadian producers are afraid to import into the U.S. because of the DEA.”

But that brings up another interesting point, according to Robinson. If Canadian producers are bringing seeds into North Dakota, or trying, then the product should be grown and processed here, to satisfy U.S. consumer demand.

In fact, North Dakota has the perfect facility for just such a venture, according to Robinson. AgGrow Oils in Carrington is a state-of-the-art oil crushing facility that could easily be utilized to crush hemp seeds and extract the oil.

Unfortunately, AgGrow is now closed and is for sale. Recent ads in the Wall Street Journal have yet to net a buyer. Robinson, who is confident someone who is conscious of the profit potential of industrial hemp, will come forward, purchase the plant and get it back in operation.

He says hemp oil is an unstable oil and has to be refrigerated or it will become rancid. Robinson adds the oil can’t be used for cooking, however, makes an excellent salad oil and is used in cosmetics.

“Hemp is such a viable commodity. To let go of it is … is ludicrous,” Robinson says. “It has so many benefits, you can’t not be in favor of it. Hemp can be used for food, fuel or fiber. If you were a farmer growing 50 acres of hemp, you could probably sustain your family on it. You can turn up to $600 an acre profit depending on what you’re growing it for.”

The proof is in the pudding, according to Robinson. Farmers in Canada have enjoyed success in growing hemp in recent years. “All you have to do is go across the international boundary into southern Manitoba and see for yourself,” Robinson says. “You get five miles over the border north of Langdon and you’ll see hemp dotted all over the prairie. I’d like to see North Dakota be as productive with this as Manitoba has been.”

Copyright © 2000, Minot Daily News. All rights reserved.