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Hemp supporters show crop’s versatility

Posted on November 18, 2000

They say people can’t get “high” on it, but it remains a controlled substance

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 at Midway College.

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 with marijuana, its look-alike 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 (R-Kailua), main speaker at the conference yesterday. “We’ve got a federal government that’s done everything it can to make the hemp market die.”

Proponents of hemp say it is impossible to get “high” on it because the plant lacks enough THC, the hallucinogenic substance in marijuana. But law enforcement authorities say it is impossible to tell one plant from the other.

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 opposition to 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—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 conference displayed numerous other products and uses. They included horse bedding, fiber board, 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 took over for sail 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.

There was a resurgence during World War II, when the federal government launched a “Hemp for Victory” campaign for rope and parachute cord. After the war, hemp was an outlaw again.

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