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US: No-Hemp Law Must Go, Say Farmers

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Wayne Hauge grows grains, chickpeas and some lentils on 2,000 acres in northern North Dakota. Business is up and down, as farming tends to be, and he is always on the lookout for a new crop. He tried sunflowers and safflowers and black beans. Now he has set his sights on hemp.

Hemp, a strait-laced cousin of marijuana, is an ingredient in products from fabric and food to carpet backing and car door panels. Farmers in 30 countries grow it. But it is illegal to cultivate the plant in the United States without federal approval, to the frustration of Hauge and many boosters of North Dakota agriculture.

On Wednesday, Hauge and David C. Monson, a fellow aspiring hemp farmer, will ask a federal judge in Bismarck to force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers.

"I'm looking forward to the court battle," said Hauge. "I don't know why the DEA is so afraid of this."

The law is the law, and it treats all varieties of Cannabis sativa the same, Bush administration lawyers argue in asking U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland to throw out the case. The DEA says a review of the farmers' applications is under way.

The crop's prospective purveyors say hemp and smokable marijuana share a genus and a species, but are as similar as rope and dope.

Marijuana's active ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. While hemp typically contains 0.3 percent THC, the leaves and flowers coveted by pot smokers have 5 percent or more, sometimes up to 30 percent.

"You could smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole," Hague said of hemp, "and it's not going to provide you with a high."

Experts say a headache is far more likely than a buzz.

In the small town of Ray, N.D., Hauge said people -- his friends, mostly -- make cracks.

"Usually it's something about whether or not the DEA is going to arrest me or if my phone is being tapped," Hauge said. "It's kind of difficult to provoke me. I'm also a CPA, and I have had a tax practice in Ray for 25 years. I was an EMT for 18 years. And I'm not a person who smokes. I don't smoke anything. I exercise a lot and I'm pretty healthy."

David Bronner is a vegan California businessman who uses hemp oil to make his Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap richer and smoother. He touts hemp milk as a challenger to soy and adds hemp seeds, full of Omega-3 fatty acids, to a snack bar called Alpsnack.

He says the hulled seeds look like sesame seeds and taste like pine nuts.

Bronner's company spends about $100,000 a year importing 10,000 pounds of hemp oil and 10,000 pounds of seeds from Canada. To do so, he first had to win a federal court battle with the Justice Department, which tried to ban the imports. One of his arguments was the prevalence and popularity of the crop elsewhere.

"In Canada and Europe, where industrial hemp is grown, no one is trying to smoke it and the sky is not falling," said Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association, a trade group.

Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2007, The Detroit News
Contact: letters@detnews.com
Website: Detroit News Online | Monday, November 19, 2007
 
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