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House Vote URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n241/a06.html Newshawk: Sledhead Pubdate: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 Source: Boston Globe (MA) Copyright: 2000 Globe Newspaper Company. Contact: email@example.com Address: P.O. Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378 Feedback: http://extranet.globe.com/LettersEditor/default.asp Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/ Author: Gene Johnson, Associated Press
FARMERS, HEMP ADVOCATES NOT DISSUADED BY HOUSE VOTE DUNBARTON, N.H. - Henry Burnham is an unlikely poster boy for legalizing hemp.
A part-time farmer, he says he doesn't need the big profits marijuana's controversial cousin could bring him. He doesn't own any hemp clothing and, to the best of his knowledge, has never in his 74 years used hemp hand lotion.
But Burnham's farm has been in his family since 1779, and he figures that if he's going to keep farming, he might as well make some money at it.
"Agriculture is at a sort of standstill in this area. We raise a lot of hay and that's about it," Burnham said. "We're trying to do something more productive than just haying."
The Legislature couldn't decide this year whether hemp should be treated as an illegal drug or farm product. The House voted in January to let farmers apply for federal permits to grow it, but under pressure from law enforcement, including Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and the attorney general, it backed off this month. Instead, the Environment and Agriculture Committee will study the idea.
People on both sides of the issue acknowledge the fight to grow hemp isn't going away.
"I don't think it would be a cure-all, but it's another opportunity," said state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor. "Nothing's going to happen until the cops are happy about it. But it's going back to study.
"I'm amazed at how tenacious the sponsors have been. They have a surprising amount of support."
Some farmers, like Mark Lathrop of Chesterfield, say hemp could be just the crop they need to make a living. Others, even if they don't really need the money, like the idea of clearing around $300 an acre.
Taylor says figures vary, but farmers can earn about $150 per acre on hay. Burnham says he actually loses money growing hay, but he grows it because he enjoys farming and wants to prevent brush from taking over his fields.
But police worry about sending the wrong message. They don't want to legalize anything in the cannabis sativa family, which includes hemp and marijuana, because they say it would create a perception of legalizing pot.
Hemp contains just a trace of marijuana's psychoactive chemical not enough to get high, experts say. Its fibers are used in rope, building materials, and as a liner for automobile clutches and brakes, among other things. Its seeds are used in health foods and can be pressed for their oil to make skin lotion.
It was grown in the United States until 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act cut into its profitability. Farmers had also found it to be less profitable than tobacco and cotton.
During World War II, production jumped briefly because there was little access to tropical fibers, but it was finally banned under the Controlled Substances Act of the early 1970s.
Hemp is now legally grown in 32 other countries, including Canada, which ships about 85 percent of its product to U.S. manufacturers.
Nine states Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Virginia passed pro-hemp bills last year that provide for research, study or potential production of the crop, and test plots were planted in Hawaii in December.
But in New Hampshire, police opposition put a halt to the movement. Assistant Safety Commissioner John Stephen said that in addition to sending the wrong message, legalizing hemp would force the state to buy a $55,000 machine that could tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, and hire a technician to run it.
Officials would have a hard time telling whether a farmer was growing hemp or marijuana, Stephen said, and legalizing hemp would make a lot more work for them.
"Law enforcement is telling me, 'We can't tell the difference,"' Stephen said.
Hemp supporters say no one would be interested in growing pot with their hemp, because the two would cross-pollinate, weakening the potency of the marijuana.
Stephen also points to studies that show hemp might not be as profitable in the future as it is now.
A report by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in November estimated that farmers could earn a profit of $316 an acre on hemp. But a federal study last month warned that all of the hemp fiber, yarn and fabric imported into the country could be grown on 2,000 acres, and overproduction would drive prices down a notion Taylor agrees with.
Hemp supporters like Rep. Amy Robb-Theroux, D-Claremont, counter that demand is rising sharply. For example, the Body Shop, an international chain of cosmetics stores, bought $108,500 worth of seed oil last year, and expects to buy twice as much this year.
Company founder Anita Roddick promised to buy the state's entire crop of seed if it were legalized.
In the meantime, hemp supporters say they want to avoid run-ins with the law.
Jefferson resident Donald Noyes, a retired paper company worker who has a farm, says he wants to learn more about hemp, which he believes could be a financial boon. But, he says, "As far as getting into conflict with the state police, I don't need that." MAP posted-by: Derek Rea