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Is Hemp Like Pot?

Posted on March 24, 2005

Maybe Not in New Hampshire

Concord, New Hampshire — New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free Or Die” and yesterday House lawmakers said that includes the right to grow hemp, a close relative of marijuana.

The 199 to 168 vote in favor of the proposal came despite opposition from law enforcement authorities and advice from legal experts saying it may violate federal regulations.

Supporters of the measure said hemp has unfairly been characterized as like marijuana, and that it is used legitimately in a wide range of products, including clothing, canvas, rope, fiberglass, insulation, cement and paper. “Hemp is one of the oldest, most useful plants known to man,” said Rep. Derek Owen, Democrat from Hopkinton. He said it is known for its strong fiber. He said New Hampshire farmers could grow it as a niche crop. “This is not marijuana,” Owen said. “This is hemp.”

Opponents argued that may be true in name, but hemp also contains THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, albeit a low amount of the chemical. Rep. Peter Batula, a Republican from Merrimack, said hemp, if smoked, has a hallucinogenic effect on the brain similar to marijuana and is considered dangerous to children.

“We don’t need fields of this marijuana plant out there for picking at harvest time,” said Batula.

Legal experts said hemp can be grown only with permission from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Last fall, a hemp research project in Hawaii was shut down after it ran out of money. Hemp growing is legal in Canada. The first use of hemp in New England and North America has been traced to the Puritans during the 17th century. They used it with flax to produce cloth. The New Hampshire proposal would let farmers grow hemp after obtaining a state permit. The state would also be the sole supplier of the hemp seeds. Anyone with a drug related conviction within 10 years would not qualify. Several legislators objected to the proposal because it lacked the support of the law enforcement community. Atkinson Police Chief Philip Consentino said he would “definitely be against growing any form of marijuana for any purpose at all. It’s strictly taboo.”

Rep. Mary Griffin, a Windham Republican, agreed. “Law enforcement doesn’t support it, and current federal law will curtail the permits,” she said. “This bill was premature. I don’t think any licenses will be issued even if it’s passed.”

Rep. Richard Cooney, R-Salem, who also opposed the legislation, said similar bills have been introduced in the past.

The measure now goes to the New Hampshire Senate and if approved there, on to Gov. John Lynch.

Copyright © 2005, Eagle-Tribune. All rights reserved.

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