July 22, 2013

Federal, state clash sets up knotty barrier to hemp production

Vermont joins the growing list of states, including Maine, that have rules allowing the cultivation of hemp, and pressure for changes at the federal level is mounting.

By Lisa Rathke / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

John Vitko holds freshly-picked strawberries in Warren, Vt., in June. Vitko would like to grow hemp to feed his chickens, but federal rules clash with a Vermont law that allows hemp cultivation.

The Associated Press

"Support for our recent farm bill amendment demonstrated that there is growing consensus to revisit the antiquated drug laws that now keep U.S. farmers from participating in the $300 million hemp retail market," Blumenauer said. "A hemp flag flown over the Capitol on the Fourth of July is a powerful symbol of this reform movement."

The figure Blumenauer referenced comes from a Congressional Research Service report that says the industry estimates that U.S. retail sales of hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.

The bill that Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law last month is intended to push the federal government to change its law after Canada reintroduced industrial hemp in the late 1990s.

"The reason we want to push for a change is that hemp is potentially a valuable crop," said Democratic Rep. Caroline Partridge, chairwoman of the Vermont House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products. "People want to grow it. Hemp oil is a valuable product, and there's so much of the hemp plant that can be used for very, very productive purposes."

The Vermont law sets up procedures and policies for growing hemp. A grower must register with the state agriculture secretary and provide a statement that seeds used do not exceed a certain concentration of THC.

The grower also must allow the hemp crops to be inspected and tested at the discretion of the Agriculture Agency, which warns growers that cultivating and possessing hemp in Vermont is a violation of federal law.

It's too late this growing season in Vermont for Vitko to grow hemp, but he hopes to plant just an acre of the plant next spring if the rules are worked out.

"I'm going to be a little farmer that's growing hemp, they've got bigger problems than me," he said of the DEA.

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