A Hemp Farmers Dream

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Last week was a dream come true for Robert Robinson. From his home in Minot, the 40-year-old auto mechanic watched and cheered as North Dakota made national headlines by issuing the nation's first permits for industrial hemp farming.

For the past nine years, Robinson has been the force behind the scenes in the campaign to bring industrial hemp to North Dakota. He freely admits that it has become a near obsession.

"My wife would probably tell you that I've spent more time on this research and advocacy than I do with my family," Robinson said.

Robinson said he spends between 10 to 15 hours per week researching hemp, speaking at hemp conferences and trying to convince government officials of the crop's benefits. He said he's spent about $25,000 of his own money to host hemp display booths at farming conferences and travel in his advocacy efforts.

Robinson even has a page on *edit*, the popular Internet networking site, devoted entirely to hemp. Under the username modernhemp, it features rock 'n' roll music, pictures of a combine harvesting hemp and the motto: "Grow rope, not dope."

Hemp, a coarse, fibrous plant used to make everything from necklaces to lotion, is heavily regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency because it looks like and has a genetic relation to marijuana.

State officials are hoping to use last week's permits as part of a campaign to convince the federal government to remove its costly, prohibitive restrictions that prevent farmers from growing this lucrative cash crop.

The two farmers who hold North Dakota hemp permits still have to wait for federal approval before they can plant their first seed.

It was this regulatory difficulty that first sparked Robinson's interest in hemp.

In 1998, when Robinson tried to get hemp twine to make a necklace for his then 5-year-old daughter, he said he was shocked at how difficult it was.

He began researching the plant and soon learned that farmers in Canada, where hemp is completely legal, can make more than $200 an acre on it.

A native North Dakotan, Robinson said he immediately saw an opportunity for his home state.

"I've seen a lot of farms go down. I've sat in small-town cafes and listened to farmers complain about how hard it is," he said. "We need a new crop."

Given his devotion to the issue, one might expect a hemp farm to be in Robinson's future if the federal government accepts North Dakota's permitting process. But he said that's not the case.

After growing up in Minot as the son of a bartender, Robinson has served as a Navy medic, a tow truck driver and a mechanic. But he has never farmed.

"I probably wouldn't know how to do it," Robinson said.

Instead, he said he hopes to build on last week's victory by continuing to be a behind-the-scenes advocate for hemp in North Dakota.

"It was astronomically significant. It was history making," Robinson said of the state permits. "But there's more to be done."

Source: Bismarck Tribune
Author: Jonathan Rivoli
Contact: jonathan.rivoli@bismarcktribune.com
Copyright: 2007 Bismarck Tribune
Website: http://www.bismarcktribune.com/articles/
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