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Will A Lawsuit Filed By North Dakota Farmers Resurrect Georgia's Hemp Industry?

In 2000, Americans spent $11 billion on marijuana. As many as 13 percent of Atlantans ( including the metro area--can't forget the suburban kids ) smoke pot. Those are stunning statistics. But while marijuana usually bogarts the spotlight, lately its buzz-kill cousin hemp is getting its moment in the sun, thanks to a lawsuit filed by two North Dakota farmers against the Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA ).

The farmers, Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson, were granted licenses by the state to grow hemp for industrial use. The only problem is that hemp falls under federal guidelines for controlled substances. So, without an exemption, each time the farmers ship hemp across the state border, the feds--in the form of the DEA, for example--will confiscate or burn their crops. Also, Monson ( who is a Republican state legislator ) and Hauge both face serious jail time.

Since a Congressional measure to remove hemp from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act has been indefinitely stalled, the problem may come down to a question of states' rights. Though trafficking across state lines poses a problem, the state could conceivably protect the farmers' crops--after all, North Dakota already issued the licenses to grow the hemp. The case, which will get a hearing in federal court on Nov. 14, may set a precedent that encourages hemp farming elsewhere.

Would-be hemp farmers in Georgia, however, need not hold their breath: Georgia is the state that considered outlawing food products that contain hemp as recently as 2006, so it's extremely unlikely that Georgia's legislators would be looking for a way to exempt hemp cultivation from the state's controlled-substances prohibitions.

"This is so far-fetched as possibly being something we would have to deal with, it seems unnecessary to even discuss it hypothetically," says Rep. Ellis Black, a Democrat from Valdosta. Black is a farmer and a member of the House Agriculture Committee. Despite his initial gruffness, he does have a working knowledge of the hemp industry. "It seems to be one of these things that is so labor-intensive, we couldn't compete with all of the other countries that have cheap labor available to them," he says.

Yet Canada, certainly no hot spot for cheap labor, is a major hemp producer. Since commercial hemp farming was re-legalized in Canada in 1998, the majority of hempseeds and oil in the U.S. now originates in Canada and in the European Union ( EU ). The United States would have a long way to go to catch up.

"We are so far behind. We were the first on the moon, but we're last in hemp," says Adam Eidenger, and probably not for the first time. But Eidenger, spokesman for the Hemp Industries Association ( HIA ), explains that there is still a market for hempseed oil. Georgia is one of only four states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that is home to mills that can process hempseed. The other states are North Dakota, Minnesota and North Carolina.

Eidenger's organization advocates for the non-existent hemp industry in the U.S. He and his colleagues aim to make it extant once again.

Good Times, Man

"Again" is the operative word. Georgia was once among the many states that grew hemp for use in paper products, as fuel and in textiles. In 1937, the first legislation on hemp and marijuana was passed. The legal lumping together of hemp with its cousin began that year, and has continued ever since. The "Marihuana Tax Act of 1937" simply decreed that anyone who had anything to do with the pot trade at the time ( including physicians, farmers and importers ) had to pay a token tax. For farmers, the tax was the princely sum of $1.

But this same act also included punishment for anyone who missed their license renewal. Unlicensed growers could face a $2,000 penalty under the act.

Hemp enjoyed a renewed vigor during World War II, when it was tapped to help the effort on the home front with the "Hemp for Victory" campaign. About a decade later, Wisconsin produced America's last official industrial hemp crop. In 1970, the last nail was driven into hemp's American coffin when it was classified with marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. It currently shares a spot alongside GHB and heroin as a Schedule I drug.

But hemp is a long way from heroin. For one, it doesn't get you high, and it weighs in far below federal limits for THC content in employee urine tests. In 2000, Leson Environmental Consulting in Berkeley, Cal., working with the University of Bern ( Switzerland ), the University of Toronto and the University of Indiana, found that consumption of hemp food products with daily THC doses of up to 0.45 milligrams would not cause one to exceed the 50 parts per billion limit used by federal programs for employee drug tests. Generally, hemp consumers registered only about 5 parts per billion.

So why is it illegal? Chuvalo Truesdell, a representative for the DEA in Atlanta, says that's just the way the law stands. "We make no distinction between hemp and marijuana," he says. "Both are in the same plant family--cannabis."

Truesdell says that there are some forms of hemp that still contain THC, and as such, are considered psychoactive drugs.

"That is like saying that poppy seed bagels lead to heroin addiction," Eidenger counters.

He thinks the real reason is the DEA's entrenched thinking.

"DEA dogma," he says. "This is beyond ideology. It's dogma."

Eidenger reveals an as-yet unpublished Canadian study that labels hemp as innocuous. Eidenger and his cohorts tried the Canadian test for themselves. They received the same field test kits--called narcopouches--used by American police to determine the nature of a drug. They found, he says, that when using the test to determine THC content, hemp didn't register.

A shot in the arm for agriculture

The crop has a variety of uses, and its products can make big bucks for producers. Its seed oil contains 33 percent protein and Omega-3 acids, great for healthy snacks ( still legal here in Georgia ). The seed oil is also used in health care and hygiene products. The HIA tracked alternative stores' sales and found that in 2006, around $70 million was spent by Americans on hemp-related products. This estimate does not include the billions spent on outright marijuana.

That may be enough to convince state Rep. Lynmore James, a Democrat from Montezuma. He, too, is a farmer, a former cattle rancher down in middle Georgia.

"If it has no narcotics in it, I would be for it," James says. "Anything that would enhance the agriculture in Georgia--I'm for it. As long as it does not harm human beings."

By all accounts, hemp is a wonder crop. The plant--which is, after all, a type of cannabis--looks a lot like its taboo kin. But its growing properties are a little different. As it matures, hemp plants form a canopy that chokes out all other plants' growth. This means it requires little or no herbicides--it naturally smothers invaders.

What's more, hemp is not attractive to insects. This cuts down on insecticides needed to produce it on a large scale. Also, in Georgia, advocates say using hemp in addition to other crops could actually help conserve that dwindling water supply we've all been hearing about.

Here's how: Hemp is a good rotation crop because the nitrogen it leaves prepares the soil for the next plants. By rotating hemp ahead of soybeans, less fertilizer is needed. A reduction in fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides all means less runoff. And this means less water has to be discharged by the Army Corps of Engineers at the Buford Dam into the Chattahoochee River to keep up with EPD standards.

"Unlike cotton, it leaves the soil in fairly good shape for the next rotation of crops," says Eidenger. "It gets the soil ready for things like soybeans."

Plus, Georgia could use another marketable crop.

"Agriculture in Georgia is slipping away," says Rep. James. "Droughts have hurt farmers here bad. As has the Farm Bill."

James says he would work to pass legislation through the General Assembly if it came to his office. But don't expect to see any fields of hemp here in the near future.

"Georgia, frankly, is not friendly to hemp," says Eidenger, who dubs North Dakota his favorite state of late. "We're focused on one state right now. It would actually be best for the industry if it were allowed only in one state."

That's because our neighbors up in Canada are facing an overabundance of hemp. The farmers up there have actually overproduced the crop, and the market for organic products is limited in the face of huge American agribusiness. After all, it's cheaper to buy heavily subsidized cotton from an American farmer than it is to buy organic hemp from a Canadian.

Plus--from the state's point of view--why tangle with the feds over a hippie lobby, or ( as some perceive ) a front for the pro-marijuana advocacy? James doesn't see how to even broach the subject without involving the federal government.

"What the state has to do is work to change the minds of the feds," he says. "We would need to change their way of thinking."

Source: Sunday Paper, The (Atlanta, GA)
Copyright: 2007 The Sunday Paper
Contact: kevinmoreau@sundaypaper.com
Website: SundayPaper.com :: All You Need To Know
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