Lincoln, Nebraska — With environmentalists urging citizens to use recyclable energy sources and family farmers struggling because of poor commodity prices, some people suggest introducing a controversial crop: hemp.
John Roulac, president and founder of Nutiva, a company that distributes hemp products, said his product has a variety of uses and is completely biodegradable.
Hemp, Roulac said, can be used to make paper, building materials, interior automobile parts, food products, plastics, textiles, garments and ethanol.
“The list of uses seems endless,” he said.
Erwin Sholts, chairman of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, a group that advocates the legalization of industrial hemp, said hemp could put many farmers to work because it has many potential uses.
Wisconsin loses four family farmers a day, he said. But when hemp was legal in the 1930s, Wisconsin was the hemp capital of the U.S., employing hundreds of farmers, Sholts said.
Despite what some see as multiple benefits from hemp, the federal government will not grant farmers permits to grow, Sholts said.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 does not forbid farmers from growing hemp, but requires interested farmers to apply for permits, he said.
But since the middle of the 20th Century, the government has not taken an active role in giving permits because of hemp’s close relative, marijuana, Sholts said.
“In the wisdom of the Drug Enforcement Agency, very few have been given,” he said.
The difference between hemp and marijuana, Roulac said, is hemp contains less than 1 percent of the chemical THC, which causes marijuana users to feel high.
“Smoking hemp just gives you a big headache,” he said.
Terri Teuber, a public information coordinator for the Nebraska State Patrol, said hemp already causes problems for local law enforcement officials.
Each year criminals from outside Nebraska converge on the state to harvest large amounts of hemp that grow naturally here, she said.
She said the criminals mix the non-potent hemp with marijuana, which allows them to make more money off each sale.
Furthermore, she said the criminals are frequently armed felons who pose a threat to area residents. “These people are dangerous to homeowners,” Teuber said.
Mike Chapman, a spokesman for the DEA in Arlington, Virginia, said that hemp causes problems for law enforcement officials simply because it is so closely related to marijuana.
He said a person could be growing marijuana under the guise of growing hemp because the plants are nearly identical.
But he said the DEA does acknowledge the potential benefits of hemp.
“We’re not insensitive to the hemp argument,” he said.
Chapman said the DEA is reviewing the government’s policy on hemp.
Despite reluctance from the federal government, Sholts said support for industrial hemp is growing.
Former CIA director Jim Woolsey joined Sholts’ hemp council board of directors after he learned about industrial hemp’s many uses, he said.
When Ford and Mercedes-Benz learned about industrial hemp, the companies made plans to construct some of their automobile parts from the fiber within this decade, he said. Some Nebraskans support industrial hemp, too.
Last year, Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek introduced a bill that would allow farmers to grow hemp in Nebraska if they received federal grants. The bill was defeated.
Seven other states including Illinois, North Dakota, Virginia and California have passed similar bills, Roulac said.
More than 30 countries, including France, Germany, England and Canada already recognize the values of industrial hemp cultivation, Roulac said.
But, Sholts said, because the government associates hemp with marijuana, it is hesitant to let farmers grow.
“Because its spelled H-E-M-P, you can’t have it,” he said.
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