Midway, Kentucky — People who think it should be legal to grow hemp for food and fiber showed off an array of hemp products, from cosmetics to car parts, at a conference yesterday.
For Kentucky farmers, it was a peek at what might be.
The hemp fiber, seed and oil in all the products came from other countries, primarily Canada. Hemp is on the federal list of controlled substances along with marijuana, its lookalike cousin.
Growing hemp is not actually illegal, but proponents say the effect is the same. A federal license is required, and getting one is nearly impossible because the Drug Enforcement Administration equates hemp with marijuana.
“They have eliminated the ability of state farmers to decide what crops to grow,” said Hawaii state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a Republican, who was the main speaker at the conference at Midway College. “We’ve got a federal government that’s done everything it can to make the hemp market die.”
Proponents say it is impossible to get “high” on hemp because the plant lacks enough THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana. But law enforcement authorities say it is impossible to tell the plants apart.
Former Gov. Louie Nunn, who has become an outspoken proponent of hemp production, said he attributed their opposition to “bureaucratic self-preservation.”
The DEA, with its “tremendous big budget” for marijuana eradication, is leading the fight against making hemp legal again, Nunn said in an interview.
Some states have taken steps to get permission to grow hemp in research plots. Hawaii did so last year because of an agricultural catastrophe: the loss of its sugar cane industry to Asian countries with plentiful labor. Thielen sponsored the 1999 law by which Hawaii is growing test crops of hemp for ethanol production.
Exhibitors at the Midway conference displayed many other products and uses. They included horse bedding, fiberboard, building shingles, rope, hemp-seed flour and toasted hemp-seed snacks. There was an example of a molded, plastic-like interior panel for cars. Fabric goods included shirts, tote bags and diapers.
Hemp was a strategic crop until the turn of the 20th century, when steam power replaced sails on ships. With passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the government would not issue permits for hemp farmers to ship their crops to processing plants because of fears that leaves containing THC would be left on the stalks.
Hemp was used during World War II to make rope and parachute cord, but was made illegal again after the war.
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