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N.D. Farmers Renew Hemp Licenses

Herb Fellow

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BISMARCK, N.D. – Two North Dakota farmers who received the nation's first state licenses to grow industrial hemp have been granted renewals, though forces outside the state will largely decide whether the farmers will ever get a crop in the ground.

David Monson and Wayne Hauge had state licenses in hand last year but never got approval from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This year, they are hoping for a favorable ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a change of heart by DEA or action by Congress. None is likely by spring planting season.

Hauge said Thursday he paid his $150 license renewal fee even though he sees no possibility of seeding industrial hemp this spring. "We just wanted to keep the licenses going," he said.

Last February, the North Dakota Agriculture Department granted commercial hemp farming licenses to Hauge and Monson. Hemp, a cousin of marijuana, can be used in products ranging from paper to lotion.

Because it contains trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol that is found in marijuana, industrial hemp is considered an illegal drug. Hemp proponents say research has proven the plant can't be used to get high.

Hauge and Monson last year suffered several setbacks to their efforts to be the first in the country to legally grow industrial hemp.

The licenses were granted under state regulations that required the farmers to get approval from the DEA. That approval never came, though the agency says it is still processing the applications.

The farmers sued with the help of the non-profit lobbying group Vote Hemp, asking a judge to bar the federal government from prosecuting them for growing hemp under state rules. The judge threw out the lawsuit, although the farmers have appealed.

State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said that under a change in North Dakota law, this year's state hemp licenses are not subject to DEA approval. However, he said Monson and Hauge still would be opening themselves up to prosecution if they plant a crop, and he is not encouraging them to do so.

"Unless there is a change in federal law or the federal courts intervene or the DEA itself changes policy, I believe it would be risky to plant industrial hemp," Johnson said.

Source: USA Today
Copyright: 2008 The Associated Press
Contact: AP
Website: N.D. farmers renew hemp licenses - USATODAY.com
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