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Bill Seeks To Permit Hemp Cultivation In Vermont

Herb Fellow

New Member
MONTPELIER — Inside the Statehouse, mounted to a wall in the House Agriculture Committee room, is a World War II-era poster asking patriotic citizens to "Grow Hemp for the War."

The framed relic harkens back to a time when hemp flourished as one of the country's premier agricultural commodities. Thomas Jefferson himself called hemp a "first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country." The first two drafts of the United States Constitution were penned on hemp paper.

Hemp's reputation has since fallen on hard times. A victim of guilt by genetic association, hemp was outlawed after World War II in an effort to clamp down on its psychotropic cousin, marijuana.

Before the end of the 2008 session, however, lawmakers here could cast votes on a bill aimed at resurrecting the crop in Vermont.

"People in general are convinced it's not a bogeyman, and in fact it may be a good step in laying the groundwork for another economic opportunity for farmers," Rep. David Zuckerman, a Burlington Progressive, said Tuesday.

Hemp, legally grown in every industrialized country except the United States, has numerous industrial applications. The seeds are processed into food and beauty products; the long stalks contain fiber and cellulose that can be made into textiles, building materials and fuel.

But hemp, a strain of cannabis sativa, shares its species with marijuana. Though hemp has barely detectable levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Agency, which wields federal jurisdiction over hemp cultivation, draws no legal distinction between the two plants.

David Monson, a state representative from North Dakota, spearheaded efforts to legalize hemp in his state after a fungus outbreak blighted wheat and barley crops there. He traveled to Vermont this week to speak with lawmakers about the merits of hemp legalization.

Though federal law enforcement officials have suggested that legalizing hemp is tantamount to legalizing marijuana, Monson said North Dakotans have dispelled that myth.

"We have made it very clear that we are against the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal use" Monson said Tuesday.

Though hemp shares visual characteristics with marijuana, Monson said the industrial crop is easily distinguished from bushier marijuana plants. As for the argument that hemp plantations could be used to shield illegal marijuana crops, Monson said cross-pollination would hurt the potency, and sale price, of marijuana.

"I'm just a farmer," Monson said. "We're not in any way, shape or form trying to legalize marijuana."Vermont's proposed hemp legislation limits the THC content of hemp plants and requires hemp growers to register with the state. State law enforcement officials did not return calls seeking comment on the bill Tuesday.

Amy Shollenberger, director of Rural Vermont, said at least a few farmers have expressed interest in growing hemp, though it's difficult to gauge the potential economic benefits.

Even if Vermont joins five other states in passing hemp legislation, Vermont farmers would likely face the same federal obstacles impeding hemp cultivation in North Dakota, where the DEA has thus far refused to grant federal hemp-growing licenses to farmers in his state.

Still, Zuckerman said, a united front by states may compel the federal government to ease hemp restrictions. "As more states do this, it will force Congress to revisit the issue," Zuckerman said.

Source: The Barre Montpelier Times Argus
Copyright: 2008, Vermont Press Bureau
Contact: Peter Hirschfeld Vermont Press Bureau
Website: Bill seeks to permit hemp cultivation in Vermont: Times Argus Online
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