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Group Seeks Legal U.S. Hemp Cultivation


March-April 1998

A coalition of agricultural, commercial and environmental groups is pushing the Clinton administration to overturn the administrative prohibition on cultivation of industrial hemp (John H. Cushman, "Groups Ask Permission to Revive Hemp Farms," New York Times, March 22, 1998).

Under the coalition's proposal, licensed farmers would be permitted to grow the crop using seeds genetically selected and federally certified not to produce significant amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Although marijuana and hemp are from the same plant species, cannabis sativa, the industrially useful strains produce almost no THC in the leaves and flowers.

The coalition plans to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Agriculture to write new regulations recognizing the difference between strains of the plant. But federal officials said that was unlikely to happen unless Congress changed the drug laws.

The coalition includes representatives of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, which represents potential producers and consumers, and the Resource Conservation Alliance, an environmental group that favors alternatives to forest products.

The hemp advocates said the system they are proposing would accommodate law enforcement concerns while allowing farmers to grow a crop that is legally cultivated in dozens of countries, including the European Union, China, and recently Canada. Hemp, once widely cultivated in the U.S., is used for an array of commercial materials, such as textiles, paper, and oils. Reportedly grown without agricultural chemicals, supporters claim the plant is environmentally benign, and its products are easily recycled and used in composts.

"Many of the people who are interested in hemp are interested solely as a means of legitimizing the production of marijuana for use," said David Des Roches, an official at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Law enforcement officials argue that hemp will be used to disguise crops of marijuana and that hemp's reputation comes not from any earth-friendly benefits but from the counter-cultural perception that hemp products are hip, especially when they carry the readily recognized logo of a marijuana leaf.

North American Industrial Hemp Council - P.O. Box 259329, Madison, WI 53725, Tel: (608) 224-5135.