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By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The hemp vs. marijuana debate...

Posted 6/18/14 (Wed)

Ever since Colorado legalized medical marijuana, it seems like just about every state except North Dakota is jumping on the bandwagon.

Colorado has made an enormous amount of tax revenue since medical marijuana was legalized less than a year ago.

Back in the 1980s, one of the big stories out of California was that Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a halt to spraying paraquat on marijuana fields in northern California because of the brain damage it does to the human mind.

Even though it was illegal at the time and still is, marijuana was the highest producing cash crop in California, a state using paraquat to try to eradicate it.

Marijuana earned more than any vegetable, nut or fruit that was grown in California for nearly a decade.

Most of us know that marijuana has a psychoative ingredient called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, that makes people “high” when they smoke it.

With medical marijuana, it’s the same effect on the mind, but it eases pain and so has become a prescription drug for that reason.

Marijuana’s cousin hemp, which looks just like marijuana, but doesn’t have any THC value, remains illegal in the United States despite staunch efforts to get that changed.

Like it’s cousin, hemp is a huge cash crop, but not in the United States. Most of it is grown in Canada and parts of Europe.

Where the United States comes in is that Canadian farmers who grow hemp, ship their product to the United States and have it processed into value-added products of all kinds.

For instance, the fibers of the stem are used for fabric or rope. The seeds are crushed and the oil is used for healthy diets. Some of the seeds are roasted and salted and make a great snack.

North Dakota legalized hemp in 1999, but it remained illegal at a federal level.

Legislator David Monson, Osnabrock, and former lawmaker Bob Nowatzki, Langdon, along with farmer Wayne Hauge, Ray, pushed to have hemp legalized, much to the chagrin of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

As Monson, also a farmer described, “I can literally look across the border and see my neighbors making money hand over fist.”

Farmers in Manitoba alone plant roughly 50,000 acres of hemp every year. And because there is such huge demand for it, hemp has become an excellent part of the crop rotation on Manitoba farms.

Sometime after the Legislature legalized hemp, North Dakota State University’s Cole Gustafson applied for a special use permit to grow hemp for research. He was later killed in a farming accident and wasn’t able to see his project through.

But, the red tape could have been a nightmare. A 12-foot high fence, a live guard, surveillance cameras and a clean legal history are all required to grow hemp in the United States, under the microscope of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

All this is really difficult to understand because while working as ag reporter at the Minot Daily News, I covered an assignment in which Hauge and Monson sued the federal government for the right to grow hemp on their private property in Cavalier and Williams counties, respectively.

The attorneys representing the U.S. government kept referring to hemp as marijuana when there is clearly a legal difference in the two plants. I guess a logical comparison would be canola and mustard; almost identical plants, yet very different characteristics.

Ironically, the United States Department of Agriculture puts its stamp of approval on Canadian hemp.

A brand called Manitoba Harvest, sells a variety of hemp products that include certified organic roasted seeds and oil. Both have the USDA Organic seal on them, but David Monson and Wayne Hauge, American farmers, are currently forbidden to grow it, possess it or sell it.

That may soon change, however, with a tiny provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allows for the growing of hemp for research in states that have already legalized it.

And, as the medical marijuana bandwagon ramps up, industrial hemp is finally beginning to get some respect. Constant pressure from those states that have legalized it, apparently has caused the DEA to call off the dogs.

It’s hard to tell if or when we’ll see hemp fields in North Dakota, but it would certainly be an alternative to cereal grains as the retail market for hemp products continues to grow at a rapid pace.