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Industrial Hemp Movement Growing


February 1997

by Chad Thevenot

While the implications of new medical marijuana laws in California and Arizona are debated, another marijuana-related debate is growing  -- the industrial use of hemp. One of the world's oldest crops, hemp was used to make the first fishing nets and rope. Eventually it was used to make sails, maps and garments, becoming the leading crop in America, Europe and Asia from 1500 to 1800. With oil-rich seeds and tall, fibrous stalks, it is used worldwide to make paper, cloth, food, cosmetics, plastic and medicine. Recently, a growing number of farmers and businesses in the U.S. have been lobbying lawmakers to allow for its domestic cultivation (John Mintz, "Splendor in the Grass?" Washington Post, January 5, 1997, p. H1).

"American farmers and consumers have been losing out in the global competition."

-- Chris Conrad, author of
Hemp, Lifeline to the Future

Hemp is another word for cannabis sativa or marijuana, but as used these days it refers to those varieties that lack the intoxicating properties of marijuana. Industrial hemp is generally defined as having less than 0.3% THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, while marijuana has a potency range range of 3% to 10% THC. Some states and the federal statute, 21 U.S. Code 802 (16) -- (located at define "marihuana" to exclude hemp stalks and sterile seeds. Hemp cultivation is illegal because naturally the cultivation produces leaves and flowers.

DEA officials oppose domestic hemp cultivation because they say hemp looks too much like marijuana and could be used by pot growers to hide illicit marijuana. However, Paul Mahlberg, an expert on marijuana cultivation and an Indiana State University molecular biologist, said the two plants are easily distinguishable.

Hemp plants are cultivated inches apart to produce plants with tall stalks, while pot plants are short and spaced a few feet apart to produce bushy, THC-rich flowers and leaves. Marijuana cultivators try to cull male plants to prevent fertilization of the female plant. Unfertilized females produce more THC, making it attractive as a drug (sinsemilla). In contrast, hemp production typically seeks fertilization to produce seeds. A pot grower would fear the inevitable pollen from hemp cultivation in a mixed plot. "The pot crop would always get weaker," Mahlberg said.

Federal officials use an argument against hemp they use against medical marijuana -- that it undermines the government's anti-drug policies at a time when teenage marijuana use is rising. But Eric Steenstra, a board member of the Hemp Industries Association told NewsBriefs that teenagers who might smoke hemp ("ditch weed" or "farmers' pot") learn quickly that it gives them a headache and does not get them high.

The controversy makes advocating hemp risky. In Simpsonville, Kentucky, fifth-grade agriculture teacher Donna Cockrel was investigated after advocating industrial hemp for local farmers. Her troubles began when she invited actor Woody Harrelson, a hemp advocate, to lecture to her students in May, 1996 (see "Drug News Soundbites," NewsBriefs, October 1996). Critics said hemp seeds had been passed around the classroom, but Cockrel was cleared. Cockrel, who once presented pro-hemp student essays to President Clinton at a Louisville rally, said, "They say that I'm advocating drugs, but I'm not. I'm discussing a crop that's vital to our rural economy."

Hemp sales grew from $5 million in 1993 to $75 million in 1995, according to Hemptech, a California firm that tracks the industry. Hemptech is projecting sales of $200 million in 1997, and $600 million by 2001. Ecolution, a hemp business based in Fairfax, Virginia, says it sales jumped 500% to $1.5 million in two years. Despite the success, Ecolution president Steve DeAngelo told NewsBriefs that it is difficult to get capital because of the perceived instability of hemp supply, a problem that he said would be addressed by legalizing domestic production.

Fashion designers, such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani are increasingly using hemp in their clothing lines. "Hemp produces a strong, clean yarn, with a structure that makes the cloth cool in summer, and warm and comfortable in winter," said Armani at a December 1996 press conference. Last year, Addidas sold 30,000 pairs of shoes made partly from hemp. Owen Sercus, a textile professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, said, "It's going to be a gigantic market" (See "Fashion Designers Rediscover Hemp," NewsBriefs, February 1995).

Hemp may be very useful for producing paper products because, according to the USDA, it produces four times as much pulp per acre as trees (Dewey, Lester and Merrill, "Hemp Hurds as Paper Making Material," Bulletin No. 404, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, October 14, 1916). Curtis Koster, technology business manager at the International Paper (IP) Company, said hemp is "the strongest, easiest [fiber crop] to grow and has the broadest geographical range." Koster, who recently joined a pro-hemp business council, said trees require decades to grow while hemp matures in about 100 days. With a growing demand for paper products worldwide and escalating prices of buying, cutting and processing scarce timberlands, Koster says that IP is intrigued by hemp as a way to address what timber interests call the "fiber crisis." The paper industry is cautious, "but it's aggressively seeking data on hemp," said Med Byrd, a leading paper researcher at North Carolina State University.

There is also a growing market for hemp edibles. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found primarily in hemp seed oil and fish, are praised for their nutritional benefits. Richard Rose, president of a California vegetarian food firm, Sharon's Finest, said hemp food product sales are more than $50 million yearly and growing. In 1994, President Clinton designated industrial hemp as a strategic agricultural resource.

Many farmers believe hemp could promote new investment in rural areas. "We're talking jobs," said Erwin Sholts, director of diversification at Wisconsin's agriculture department. Sholts asked, "Why should we import a product in high demand when we can grow it here?" Advocates claim that hemp is environmentally "correct," saying it can be grown with less pesticide or irrigated water needed to farm cotton, a competing crop. The American Farm Bureau Federation, a 4.5 million member farm group, called hemp "one of the most promising crops in half a century. ... [It] could be the alternative crop farmers are looking for." With farmers facing long-term declines in tobacco earnings, hemp has become particulary attractive in tobacco growing regions.

"Canada has been growing research hemp crops since 1994, and European farmers are paid a good subsidy to produce hemp," Chris Conrad, author of Hemp, Lifeline to the Future, told NewsBriefs. "American farmers and consumers have been losing out in the global competition due to federal incompetence, and now the states are beginning to reclaim their Tenth Amendment rights over their internal farm policies."

Last year, four states considered hemp legislation (See "Vermont, Colorado Legislatures Take Steps to Allow Industrial Hemp," NewsBriefs, April 1996). This year, about a dozen states are considering legislation to research or legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp. The following is a summary of hemp legislation in various states.

ARIZONA - Leaders of the Navajo Nation are considering using up to 40,000 acres to cultivate hemp this spring as part of an economic development project that will employ 70 people in a particleboard mill near the town of Sawmill, Arizona. The Navajos, who believe that their sovereign status exempts them from the U.S. ban on hemp cultivation, are also considering using the plant to make rugs and oil. Under current Navajo law, growing plants with THC is illegal, but the tribal council is considering amending the law to legalize plants with less than 0.3% THC. "We are only interested in the commercial and industrial application," says Jim Robinson, director of the Navajo Hemp Project (Dan McGraw, "Hemp is High Fashion," U.S. News and World Report, January 20, 1997, p. 55).

COLORADO - On February 12, the Colorado House Agriculture Committee voted 8-4 in favor of the Fiber Crop Development Act (HB-1274), which authorizes Colorado State University to research various strains of hemp with less than 0.3% THC. Introduced by state Representative Kay Alexander (State Capitol Building, 200 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO 80203, Tel: (303) 866-2955, Fax: (303) 866-2291), it also established the Colorado Fiber Crop Development Committee to research markets for the crop and to address concerns with law enforcement officials. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee (John Sanko, "Hemp bill takes root once again in statehouse," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), December 28, 1996, p. 15A; Colorado Hemp Initiative Project, "Industrial Hemp Bill Passes House Agriculture Committee," Press Release, February 12, 1997).

Last year, a hemp bill by former Colorado State Senator Lloyd Casey passed the Colorado Senate 18-15, but died in the house, primarily due to opposition by law enforcement officials. Casey now heads the Agricultural Hemp Association (information below), which is spearheading a multi-state legislative effort.

HAWAI'I - On February 14, the Hawai'i House of Representatives unanimously passed the Hemp Industry Development Act (HB 284), sponsored by State Representative Cynthia Thielen (State Capitol Bldg., Honolulu, HI 96813, Tel: (808) 586-6480, E-mail: Thielen (R) told NewsBriefs that her bill would allow the private sector to fund University of Hawai'i research on the cultivation of industrial hemp and require that the research results be submitted to the legislature. It also would establish a"Hawai'i hemp regulation committee" to study the regulation of commercial hemp and to "recommend permanent state laws and rules for commercial hemp production." It also amends the definition of marijuana in state law to exclude industrial hemp. The bill goes to the House Judiciary committee next, where Thielen expects some difficulty.

IOWA - A bill (HF-402) "providing for research regarding the production and marketing of industrial hemp" was filed by State Representative Cecelia Burnett (State Capitol Bldg., Des Moines, IA 50319, Tel: (515) 232-2710, Voice-mail: (515) 242-6423). Sharon Haselhoff, an administrative assistant for Burnett, told NewsBriefs that Burnett's bill has bipartisan sponsorship. If the bill passes, the state farm bureau may research hemp with the assigned committee, according to Haselhoff.

KANSAS - State Senator David Corbin (Statehouse, Room 120-S, Topeka, KS 66612, Tel: (913) 296-7388) introduced an agricultural hemp bill (SCR-1605) on February 3 which was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

KENTUCKY - On January 25, former Governor Edward "Ned" Breathitt told an audience in Lexington at the Community Farm Alliance's annual meeting that industrial hemp cultivation should be allowed. Breathitt said he strongly supports hemp as an alternative crop to diversify Kentucky farms. Both the Community Farm Alliance and the larger Kentucky Farm Bureau have endorsed hemp as a legitimate crop. The Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association is also working to legalize it in their state (Jamie Lucke, "Breathitt says hemp should be legal crop," Lexington Herald-Leader, January 26, 1997, p. B1).

On January 23, Lee County District Judge Ralph McClanahan ruled that a state law (KRS Chapter 218A.010 (12)) that groups industrial hemp with marijuana is unconstitutional. The ruling came in the misdemeanor case against actor Woody Harrelson (Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Woody Harrelson, Lee District Court, Case #96-M-00161), who was charged with planting four hemp seeds on June 1 to protest the state law (See "'Cheers' Star, Woody Harrelson, to Protest Anti-Hemp Law, Arrested at Seed Planting," NewsBriefs, Summer 1996). Judge McClanahan ruled that the law "is constitutionally defective due to its overbroad application by including non-hallucinogenic plant parts." Charles Beale (Tel: (606) 254-6363), an attorney for Harrelson, said the case will probably go to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, where a ruling will have statewide impact (Andy Mead, "Harrelson, hemp win round in court," Lexington Herald-Leader, January 24, 1997, p. A1).

MISSOURI - State Senator Jerry T. Howard (D) (P.O. Box 279, Dexter, MO 63841, Tel: (573) 624-8778), vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee, filed the Missouri Hemp Production Act of 1997 (Senate Bill 79), which will establish a permit process for the cultivation of industrial hemp. It also includes funds for hemp research. The bill is scheduled for consideration in the first week of March.

NORTH DAKOTA - On February 20, the House passed a hemp bill (HB - 1305) by a vote of 80-13 with bipartisan support. The sponsor of the bill, State Representative David Monson (Legislative Assembly, 600 E. Boulevard Ave, Bismarck, ND 58505-0360, Tel: (701) 328-2916), told NewsBriefs that the House Agriculture Committee had voted to oppose passage of the bill, but their opposition was disregarded. Monson (R) said the bill would require North Dakota State University to research the crop potential and legal problems of industrial hemp. A research report would be submitted to the legislative council by August 1, 1998. Test plots may be too expensive, and may not be part of the research. Monson told NewsBriefs that he hopes to attract private investment in hemp reserch. The bill was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee (Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, "Farm Scene: North Dakota House OKs Hemp Study," February 12, 1997).

OREGON - Oregon state Representative Floyd Prozanski (Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR 97310, Tel: (503) 986-1440) told NewsBriefs that he will introduce a bill to allow for the cultivation of hemp under control of the state department of agriculture. Prozanski (D) said there is enough research and history on the plant to justify letting farmers grow the plant as an agricultural product.

The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), an initiative effort, failed to make the November 1996 general election ballot. However, the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH) has reworked the proposal and is aiming to put the initiative on the 1999 ballot. CRRH executive committee member Paul Stanford told NewsBriefs that among other things, OCTA will allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

VERMONT - According to a survey by the University of Vermont, 77% of Vermont residents who responded said that farmers should be allowed to grow industrial hemp in the state. The survey was part of a study commissioned in 1996 by the Vermont legislature to determine the viability of hemp production in the state. In the survey, 72% of the respondents said that hemp legalization would not hurt the effectiveness of drug education efforts, and 63% said that domestic hemp cultivation would not eventually lead to marijuana legalization (Catherine C. Halbrendt, Qingbin Wang, and Mathew C. Mole, "Alternative Agricultural Strategies in Vermont: The Case of Industrial Hemp,, December 16, 1996). Although advocates expected hemp legislation to follow the favorable report, state Representative Fred Maslack (State House, Montpelier, VT 05602, Tel: (802) 828-2256) told NewsBriefs that legislation would probably not be introduced until January 1998 after the legislature receives a second report from the University of Vermont.

VIRGINIA - The issue of legalizing the cultivation of hemp as a cash crop was considered on December 4, 1996 at the state convention of the 123,000-member Virginia Farm Bureau ((804) 784-1234). Farm bureau delegate Eric Crowgey said, "It would be an excellent cash crop -- a replacement for tobacco, perhaps." Crowgey said there was no opposition from the floor after he explained the benefits of industrial hemp. According to Crowgey, hemp could be harvested with existing farm equipment and processed with minimal changes to equipment in most paper mills (Linda McNatt, "Virginia farmers seek Assembly approval to grow industrial hemp," Virginian-Pilot, December 5, 1996, p. B3).

In early February, the Virginia legislature passed HJR 656, which will establish "a joint subcommittee to study the economic benefits of and barriers to the introduction of industrial hemp in Virginia." The bill was introduced by Virginia Delegate Mitchell Van Yahress (223 W. Main St., Charlottesville, VA 22902, Tel: (804) 293-6483).


Agricultural Hemp Association (AHA) - P.O. Box 8534, Denver, CO 80201, Tel: (303) 298-7377.

Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp (BACH) - P.O. Box 1716, El Cerrito, CA 94530, Tel/Fax: (510) 215-8326, E-mail: Contact: Chris Conrad, BACH Founder and Director, and author of "HEMP: Lifeline to the Future, The Unexpected Answer for Our Environmental and Economic Recovery," Creative Expressions Publications, Los Angeles, California, (1993).

Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp - P.O. Box86741, Portland, OR 97286, Tel: (503) 235-4606, Fax: (503) 233-5430,

Coalition for Hemp Awareness - P.O. Box 9068, Chandler Heights, AZ 85227, Tel: (602) 988-9355, Fax: (602) 988-9438, E-mail:

Colorado Hemp Initiative Project (CO-HIP) - P.O. Box 729, Nederland, CO 80466, Voice-mail: (303) 784-5632, E-mail:,

Ecolution - P.O. Box 2279, Merrifield, VA 22116, Tel: (703) 207-9001, Fax: (703) 560-1175,

Health, Science and Public Policy: An in-depth Analysis of HEMP -

Hemp Industries Association - P.O. Box 1080, Occidental, CA 95465, Tel: (707) 874-3648, E-mail:,

Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association - P.O. Box 8395, Lexington, KY 40533, Tel: (606) 252-8954.

North American Industrial Hemp Council - P.O. Box 259329, Madison, WI 53725-9329, Tel: (608) 224-5135.

Ohio Hempery - P.O. Box 18, Guysville, OH 45735, Tel: (800) BUY HEMP, Fax: (614) 662-6446, E-mail:,

Oxford Hemp Exchange - 121 South Broadway #32, Poplar Bluff, MO 63901, Tel (573) 785-8711, E-mail: