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States Petition for Right to Grow Industrial Hemp

Posted on October 22, 2000

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN anchor: Maryland and Hawaii are among the states trying to find a crop to plant in fields once dedicated to tobacco and sugar. Their answer? Hemp. Although hailed for its many uses, hemp was banned in the US many years ago.

As Kathleen Koch reports, the hemp debate is growing.

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KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN correspondent (voice-over): It grows like a weed, industrial hemp, a cousin of marijuana, but without its narcotic kick. Canadian farmers have planted 100,000 acres of the hardy crop since Canada lifted its ban two years ago.

RICK PLOTNIKOV, Canadian hemp farmer: It grows two inches a day. It requires no irrigation. We didn’t even use any fertilizer in this crop.

KOCH: The lure is the heap of hemp products starting to crowd store shelves. It has 25,000 commercial uses, including clothing, bracelets, wallets, food, fiberboard, even entire lines of beauty products.

SEAN DONOHUE, The Body Shop: We have products that take care of your hair. We have products that take care of your skin. We have a hand protector.

KOCH: But under US drug laws, growing hemp and marijuana remains illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FARMER: We’re harvesting seed where you see this plot right here..

KOCH: Still, Hawaii last year got federal permission to plant hemp experimentally under tight security.

CYNTHIA THIELEN, Hawaii state legislator: We have sugar plantations that have gone belly up. We’ve got a lot of vacant agricultural land. Hemp is a real answer for Hawaii.

KOCH: Maryland, North Dakota and Minnesota are also vying for approval to grow hemp legally.

THOMAS MCLAIN, Maryland state legislator: It could be an alternative crop, especially for those of us in southern Maryland whose principal cash crop here is tobacco. We’re looking for alternative crops.

KOCH: Hemp has a colorful history. It was grown by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Early drafts of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Henry Ford even made auto body panels for early cars using hemp fibers. But marijuana and hemp were banned in the United States in 1937.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hemp for mooring ships. Hemp for tow lines.

KOCH: But when WW II broke out, farmers were given temporary permits to grow hemp for the military.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hemp for victory.

KOCH: Drug officials insist allowing hemp to be cultivated again would create confusion for law officers who couldn’t distinguish hemp from marijuana.

BARRY MCCAFFREY, US drug czar: Indeed, in many cases they can only be determined by chemical assessment. I think what’s going on is an attempt to make widespread growing of hemp products almost impossible for US law enforcement to deal with.

KOCH: While the two plants look similar, hemp was bred to have strong fibers. It has only a fraction of marijuana’s mind altering compound, thc. Hemp plants are planted close to grow tall, marijuana plants farther apart to grow more leaves.

ANDY KERR, environmental consultant: Supposedly American cops can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana. But gendarmes, bobbies and Mounties all can tell the difference and tell us there isn’t a problem.

KOCH (on camera): While US drug enforcement officials are said to be reviewing their policy, there’s no indication hemp will get the green light any time soon.

Kathleen Koch for CNN in Washington.

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