SALEM, OR - The hemp seed at last has been planted in the Oregon
Legislature. That ought to be the first step to a profitable harvest on the
farms and ranches of the state.

The bill for cautious legalization of growing industrial hemp contains the
important lesson that hemp and its troublesome cousin, marijuana, are not
one and the same.

How well is that lesson learned? It will be a good test of the Legislature
to generate support among lawmakers from both parties, from both houses and
from urban and rural constituencies.

The proposal ought to have that kind of broad support. It has found it in
other states that have authorized experimentation with the plant.

More than 30 foreign countries that regularly produce hemp wonder what the
concern is all about in the United States.

Americans should wonder, too. And certainly their farmers should. Why
should they be deprived of a choice that puts money in the banks of their
competitors abroad? Industrial hemp offers them the prospect of another
crop, one with the potential of earning them about $300 an acre.

Northwest farmers, always looking for rotation and alternative crops,
clearly would appreciate having such an option. And they should.

The problem is paranoia over marijuana. When hemp was first banned back in
the '30s, marijuana was blamed, even though it's likely that competition
from other fiber, such as wood, was the real culprit.

When there was a need for the tough fiber in World War II, the ban was
easily jettisoned with barely a murmur, only to be reinstalled when the war
was over. But the plant has grown wild throughout much of the country since
then.

The close relationship between the plant that produces strong fiber and the
one that produces an illegal drug is undeniable. But they are not
identical. Hemp contains only trace amounts of the intoxicant found in
marijuana. Indeed, researchers have found a quality in hemp that inhibits
the intoxicant, thereby characterizing hemp as the anti-marijuana cousin.

An argument is advanced that the two are so alike hemp could be a cover
crop for marijuana. But those who make that argument display a serious lack
of knowledge about agriculture. Hemp is grown for its strong fiber. It's
therefore tightly bunched, grown tall and spindly, and harvested early.
Marijuana is grown for its flowers and leaves. Thus, it therefore spreads
out like a bush. And it would be left bare for drug enforcement officers to
spot when the taller hemp is harvested.

The bill before the Legislature is a careful step, as it should be when
there's so much concern about an issue. It would place the plant under the
jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The department would
be responsible for issuing licenses and conducting tests.

That's a reasonable beginning.

So let's begin. Let's stop connecting hemp with drugs and start connecting
it with profits for the farmer and therefore the state's economy.

It's a shame to lock away a plant with such a valuable product for
something its naughty cousin is guilty of.


Newshawk: agfuture
Pubdate: Sun, 04 Feb 2001
Source: Capital Press (OR)
Section: Opinions
Copyright: 2001 Capital Press Agriculture Weekly
Contact: devans@capitalpress.com
Address: PO Box 2048, Salem, OR 97308
Fax: (503) 370-4383
Website: http://www.capitalpress.com/