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LA Times Op-Ed: A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money


Rolling Stone: The Other Cannabis War: The Battle Over Hemp

How a 20-year campaign to distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana scored an epic victory
By Coco McPhersonJune 3, 2014
Full Article

In the annals of strange bedfellow politics, the story of how, in 2014, industrial hemp emerged from Drug War purgatory is an epic one. But even for long-time hemp advocates, the sight of Rep. Thomas Massie, a conservative Republican from northern Kentucky, biting jubilantly into a hemp bar on live TV last month was startling.

Buried in February’s $956 billion farm bill is an amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Massie, that legally distinguishes industrial hemp from marijuana after decades of conflation. It defines hemp as an agricultural crop rather than a drug — and effectively frees American farmers to grow it for the first time in almost 60 years.

Widespread cultivation won’t happen overnight – for one thing, the U.S. has no hemp seeds or hemp-processing facilities. But the sudden change in hemp’s fortunes shocks its supporters. “If you’d asked me five years ago if I thought we could get Mitch McConnell to introduce a hemp bill, I’d have told you it was impossible,” says Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, the advocacy group formed in 2000 to educate and lobby for hemp legalization in state legislatures and on the Hill. “This is huge.”

It’s also been a long time coming. For 20 years, legislators, farmers, hippies, activists, agency heads and agronomists have worked to recast hemp as a game-changer, an American cash crop that could jump-start the country’s next economic revival. Kentucky took the legislative lead with outright advocacy by its agriculture department. Unlike a high-profile 2007 lawsuit in which two North Dakota hemp farmers took on the DEA without support from their elected officials in Washington, Kentucky brought its entire federal (and much of its state) delegation to the party.

Among hemp’s biggest advocates are Kentucky’s Republican senator, Rand Paul, the avowed champion of limited government who tweets about the tragedy of the drug war, and James Comer, the state’s young Republican agriculture commissioner who successfully sued the DEA last month for seizing Kentucky’s imported hemp seeds and for interfering with the implementation of pilot programs made legal by the farm bill. And Massie, a fiscal hawk active in last year’s government shutdown who once studied robotics at MIT.

Colorado, Vermont and Kentucky wasted no time launching their industrial hemp research and the pilot programs provided for in the farm bill. In an obscure notice dated April 16th, the USDA alerted state and county officials that farmers in states that ok’d hemp production (15 so far) could now include hemp acreage in their crop reports. The floodgates have opened.

From California and representing the activist left: David Bronner, president of his family’s Magic Soap empire. Bronner has thrown the weight of probably the most iconic hippie brand in the world behind hemp legalization and GMO-labeling initiatives.  In 2012, Bronner locked himself in a cage with a thatch of hemp plants in clear view of the White House; he was preparing a hemp oil sandwich when he was sawed out of his prison by the D.C. fire department and hauled away by police.

Explaining industrial hemp has taken decades. A lot of people don’t know what it is and many think it’s pot. “It’s just been incredibly frustrating for the hemp industry that hemp has been lumped legally and in public perception with marijuana,” Bronner tells Rolling Stone.

Hemp isn’t weed and hemp can’t get you high—it’s a bust as a recreational drug. Hemp is marijuana’s non-psychoactive sibling, derived, like weed, from the cannabis sativa plant. The current American hemp market is estimated at nearly half a billion dollars, with hemp’s oil, seed and fiber used in food, carbon-negative building materials, and automobile composites that are already inside millions of cars. Hemp cultivation is also as old as the country itself. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, hemp was once legal tender, and several drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. During WWII, American farmers were paid to grow it, cultivating more than 150 million pounds of industrial hemp to support the American war effort. The U.S. government’s 1942 propaganda film, Hemp for Victory, depicts workers toiling happily to harvest lush fields of hemp; the fibrous plants to be later converted to materiel like rope and parachute webbing for the military.

Despite its patriotic bona fides, cannabis sativa was a victim of reefer madness in almost every decade of the 20th Century. Praised, taxed, vilified, confused with pot and blamed for killing sprees and the theft of American jobs by immigrants. The final nail in hemp’s coffin was its classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic in 1970′s Controlled Substances Act.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a commercial hemp industry. All the hemp sold in the U.S., including the food and body products lining the shelves of Costco, the Body Shop and Whole Foods is imported. As Americans buy hemp, Britain, China, France and Germany are among the countries benefiting from America’s incoherent drug policy. Last year, Canadian farmers grew 67,000 acres of  hemp and say they may not be able to grow enough to fill this year’s orders. David Bronner began adding hemp oil — imported from Canada — to his liquid soaps in 1999. “I thought this was the most ridiculous piece of the drug war,” he says “that a non-drug agricultural crop was caught up here.”

Even as hemp fought to differentiate itself from pot, it  undeniably benefited from its association with it, successfully riding the wave of marijuana legalization in states throughout the country. And as hemp lobbyists worked to change cannabis laws, high-profile court cases highlighted the confusing and capricious application of federal drug laws to the non-drug plant.

In 2001, in a fit of drug war paranoia, the DEA declared a ban on foods that contain hemp including certain cereals, salad dressings, breads and veggie burgers — claiming that the foods contained THC. Affected businesses were given 120 days to dump their inventories. With the hemp food market just taking off, 200 hemp companies, including Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, took the DEA to court. The lawsuit allowed the hemp industry to make its case in the media. Hemp won the bruising battle nearly three years later when a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the government couldn’t regulate the trace amounts of THC that occur naturally in hemp seeds.

When the first hemp bill was introduced in Congress in 2005, it was lonely business. “At that point we had Ron Paul, a pariah in the Republican Party, recalls Steenstra. “Nobody wanted to do anything with us and we could barely get co-sponsors. We’d say hemp and they’d say ‘no, no, no, that’s pot.’ We banged on a lot of doors and worked in state legislatures to get laws changed there. A lot of states considered marijuana to be all cannabis and they didn’t distinguish. We knew we had to change minds in both places.” It wasn’t until 2012 that the first hemp bill was introduced in the Senate, when Oregon’s liberal senator, Ron Wyden, took to the floor to call federal hemp prohibition “the poster child for dumb regulation.”

What worked was the lure of jobs and economic development. When Comer, a family farmer who served six terms in the Kentucky state legislature, ran for agriculture commissioner in 2011, campaigning on industrial hemp was a no-brainer. Kentucky was once the heartland of hemp production in the U.S. and people came out of the woodwork to talk to Comer about it. “And it was all over the spectrum,” Comer tells Rolling Stone. “Liberals liked it because they were environmentalists and conservatives in the Tea Party liked it because it was an example of government overreach. Older voters were overwhelmingly for hemp because they remembered when their families grew it. They didn’t know you could make automobile parts from it because at the time, all you made with hemp in Kentucky was rope.”

On Capitol Hill last Thursday, Rep. Massie and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) each introduced amendments that would prevent the DEA and Justice Dept. from spending any money to interfere with states who are implementing their hemp laws. In the last 50 years there has only been one hemp vote in the House and that was last year. Suddenly there’ve been two more.

Without seeds, how long will it take to make hemp just another American crop like soybeans? “There’s definitely a process we have to get through,” says Bronner. “We’ve given the Canadians and the Europeans and the Chinese a huge head start on the modern global awareness of hemp. They’ve had years of breeding programs to optimize their cultivars for their climate conditions and we’ve been doing nothing.”

Canadian agronomist Anndrea Hermann says finding the right hemp varieties for the U.S. is crucial. “I would never tell a farmer anywhere, ‘let’s start mass cultivation next year,’” Hermann tells Rolling Stone. Hermann lives in a country with a fully-regulated hemp industry. “And we have to have the farmers’ voice. If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have agriculture.”

In Kentucky, farming programs for veterans that teach families how to grow their own food have just sewn hemp in collaboration with the agriculture department and Vote Hemp. Mike Lewis, a military veteran and food security expert who founded the group in 2012 when his brother returned from the war in Afghanistan with a brain injury, now has grant money for a hemp textile project and part-time work for twelve people. This in a state with a 19% poverty rate. “Appalachia has a strong history of textiles,” Lewis observes. “In my vision that’s what’s missing from rural communities, ag income. People used to survive off tobacco. If it has to be hemp for textiles, let’s do it. People call hemp a panacea, a pipe dream, but look how many people came together from all walks of life in Kentucky to make this happen.”


WHAS11: DEA backs down; releasing hemp seeds to Ky. Agriculture Dept.

by Joe Arnold
May 13, 2014
Full Article & Video

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – There has been an apparent breakthrough in the battle over industrial hemp seeds seized by customs agents in Louisville.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Drug Enforcement Administration has decided to back down and release the seeds for a hemp pilot project.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer planned to take the DEA to federal court Wednesday to force it to follow a new federal law.

According to Comer, the DEA wanted to attach various conditions before it would even consider handing over the industrial hemp seeds.

Now the two sides have agreed on one condition.

“The first phone call – it was just an utter disregard for federal legislation, the Farm Bill,” Comer said.

By the last phone call between the DEA and the Kentucky Agriculture Department on Tuesday, the two sides appear to have reached an agreement that by the end f the week it will release to agriculture officials a 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds being held by customs agents.

An agriculture department official says the DEA will only require the Agriculture Department to apply for an import permit, a process the DEA pledges to expedite so that the seeds can be released by the end of the week.

“The farm bull clearly states that we have the authority in Kentucky because we passed state regulatory framework, to be able to conduct pilot projects with research universities like the University of Kentucky,” Comer said.

It appears to be a better resolution than in 1996, when actor Woody Harrelson was arrested in rural Kentucky for ceremoniously planting four hemp seeds.

This Friday, Comer plans to join hemp supporters in rural Kentucky again to plant hemp seeds to usher in the rebirth of a cash crop outlawed here since 1937 because it looked similar to marijuana.

 


The Courier Journal: Kentucky hemp to be planted in May

Bruce Schreiner
April 29, 2014
Full Article

Kentucky’s first industrial hemp crop in decades will start going into the ground next month now that the pipeline for shipping seeds into the state is opening up to allow the experimental plantings, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Tuesday.

Comer said he expects the first batches of hemp seeds to arrive soon at the state Agriculture Department at Frankfort.

“We’re rapidly approaching a crucial time for the seeds to be put in the ground,” he said.

So far, eight pilot projects are planned statewide as part of a small-scale reintroduction to gauge the crop’s potential in the marketplace and as a moneymaker for farmers. The first planting is scheduled May 16 in Rockcastle County, said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, Comer’s chief of staff.

“Hopefully we can get enough seeds to have credible research data gathered by this fall,” Comer said. “And next year, hopefully we’ll have enough seeds to have several processors in the state and several farmers under contract growing it.”

Hemp production was banned decades ago when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. But hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

The crop’s comeback gained a foothold with passage of the new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states that already allow the growing of hemp.

Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year that allowed hemp to be reintroduced, if the federal government allowed its production.

Once the farm bill allowed the experimental plantings, the next challenge was getting hemp seed.

Comer said Tuesday his staff has “gone through every level of federal bureaucracy you can go through to get those seeds in.”

The initial seeds are coming from Canada and Italy, Comer said.

One pilot project in Fayette County will focus on hemp’s potential in medicine, she said.

Hemp many uses, including rope, clothing and mulch from the fiber; hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions.


Salon: Why America’s fired up about hemp

The once-maligned cannabis plant could herald an agricultural revolution, author Doug Fine tells Salon
By

Hemp: It’s not just for health food smoothies and hippie clothing. The unintended victim of the United States’ prohibition on cannabis — it got swept up in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and is now blacklisted by the DEA under the Controlled Substances Act — the plant is beginning to be seen by many as the solution to any number of the country’s problems, with implications ranging from energy to agriculture. Newly liberated (to an extent) by the recently passed Farm Bill, it could be the country’s next billion-dollar industry, journalist Doug Fine told Salon.

It’s one of the few areas on which Fine, who’s previously written books about marijuana legalization and an experiment in off-grid living, can find common ground with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution” is part manifesto, part documentation of the ways in which hemp is being put to use within the U.S. and around the world, and part how-to for would-be cultivators. Fine spoke with Salon about hemp’s former role in U.S. history, the declining stigma against all kinds of cannabis and the people leading the new hemp movement. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Just so everyone’s on the same page, I thought it would be good to start with a working definition of hemp. What are you talking about in the book, and what’s its relationship to marijuana?

Most of the world cultivates hemp today, and the general definition is any variety of the cannabis plant with less than .1 percent THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can be cultivated for industrial reasons. There is no other similarity between hemp, otherwise known as industrial cannabis, and the psychoactive varieties of the plant, other than the fact that their leaves are shaped similarly. Canada has a 15-year modern hemp industry worth a billion dollars a year, by the way, and growing. And there have been zero cases of confusion between hemp and psychoactive cannabis.

Also, a hemp crop would immediately ruin a psychoactive cannabis crop because for psychoactive cannabis, only females are cultivated, and they’re prima donnas — they’re lovingly manicured over their life cycle. If hemp pollen were to get into those female plants, it would destabilize the psychoactivity, it would dilute it. So that’s why for instance in California, which recently passed hemp cultivation registration, the regions where they’re allowing hemp are totally separate from the famous outdoor cannabis cultivating regions of the Emerald Triangle and the Redwood northern part of the state.

So the U.S. prohibition of industrial cannabis, then, is really all about this perceived connection it has with marijuana?

Yes. The 77 years of hemp prohibition were essentially caused by a typo. When cannabis was effectively criminalized in 1937, under the federal Marijuana Tax Act – another terrible policy which I’ve written about before — hemp was included. Very quickly, the federal government realized what a mistake that was. Already the drug war was shipping jobs offshore. In 1942, just a few years after hemp prohibition began, World War II was breaking out. And the Navy needed something like 40 tons of hemp rigging for each vessel.

And by the way, the cord in the parachute that saved George Bush Sr.’s life in World War II was made of hemp.

So we’d been getting the hemp from the Philippines. But the Japanese captured the Philippines. So in 1942, you can see this on Youtube, the Department of Agriculture made this propaganda film that sounds as though it were produced by your roommate with the lava lamp. It’s called “Hemp for Victory,” and it just sings all the true applications of hemp, it’s a song of praise to it. And it’s just proof of the ridiculousness of cannabis prohibition. This 77-year break that we tried to impose on humanity’s relationship with the plant obviously must come to an end. And when it comes to hemp, it’s really, really good for the economy and the planet that it’s coming to an end.

In your last book, “Too High to Fail,” you make a strong economic case for ending marijuana prohibition, which is still coming up against opposition. Is legalizing hemp any easier, or is stigma still an issue here, too?

Well, it’s even easier with hemp. In February, Congress passed and the president signed the Farm Bill, which included a provision that legalized hemp on the federal level. It’s only for university research to start, but that’s okay. Before they got their hugely growing and very profitable hemp industry going in 1998, the Canadians also did two years of research on the cultivars (which is what you call the strains when you’re talking about hemp — the varieties, essentially). So yeah, it’s a done deal with hemp.

The really interesting thing, so far as hemp is concerned, is that there seems to be a very strong Republican case for it. [Kentucky Senator] Mitch McConnell was a major backer of the provision for hemp cultivation.

Definitely. Kentucky was the traditional leader in a hemp industry that was hugely important to the American economy. The U.S. hemp crop was the pride of the world. Our cultivars were prized. They’re gone now. We have to rebuild them. And it wasn’t just Kentucky. Places like Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois — they all had big hemp industries. Today, North Dakota is one of the leaders in fighting to get hemp back — a very politically conservative state. It’s because they’re looking one inch over the border, and seeing farmers make $300 per acre, which is as much as ten times what they’re making for GMO wheat, corn and soy.

So it’s really a bottom-line thing. In “Hemp Bound,” I talk about the climate change mitigation that’s going to result when hemp is really adopted. But it wouldn’t be adopted on a large scale if it weren’t for the profit that farmers can make today from seed oil. That, in the end, is why Colorado is ahead of federal law. I was at a meeting in Boulder a few weeks ago, on the first day that the Colorado Agriculture Department started issuing permits to farmers for unlimited commercial cultivation of hemp. That’s more than federal law currently allows for, although there are some pending bills in Congress this year to allow federal law to catch up with Colorado. But there’s one very simple reason why Colorado is moving ahead, and that is profits to farmers and money in the tax base.

If the U.S. could re-grow its hemp industry, how much of an economic impact do you see it having, both immediately and maybe in the long term?

I see it having a massive economic impact. Predictions are free, of course. But first of all, let’s talk about on the ground today, in straight dollar figures, just on the hempseed oil. Canadian farmers have built an industry in 15 years that’s going to break a billion dollars this year in earnings. Just for this year. From the seed oil. So it’s already having a huge impact. Long-term, I believe that hemp is going to be a bigger economic boon worldwide than psychoactive cannabis, which is already one of the world’s leading cash crops. And my shorthand explanation for that is: Coors is big, but Exxon Mobil is bigger. And the hemp application that I write about in “Hemp Bound,” that I’m most excited about, and that I preach and pray for at every live event, especially when there’s going to be potential cultivators, processors and investors at the event, is the energy application.

In Europe today, entire communities in places like Austria and Germany are becoming energy independent and fossil fuel independent through a biomass combustion technique called gasification. It’s an anaerobic, high-heat process, and it’s being used on farm waste. You can get the gasification combustion units in the size of an outhouse. They’re affordable. The U.S. Army’s buying a lot of these units too. And farms are selling back to the grid, or in some places like Bellheim, Germany, they’re creating their own community-based grid and putting unemployed people to work running it. So they’re becoming independent of larger grids and becoming independent of petroleum.

I’m urging farmers to make this energy producing application part of their first-generation processing facilities for hemp in the U.S. I think of it as the upside of prohibition. We can now look around the world and see. The Canadians are making tons of money, $300 an acre profit. So if you’re growing 1,000 acres in the prairies of Manitoba or Alberta, that’s $300,000 profit per year. That’s good money. So seed oil. Then there’s fiber applications — we could start building carbon-negative homes using “hempcrete,” which is hemp fiber mixed with lime. And the third asset that really has me excited, as a father, about our climate future, is this fossil-free energy from hemp. If we’re growing these millions of acres in North Dakota, Colorado, Vermont, Kentucky, I think we can really have an impact on worldwide climate change.

How is hemp, used as fuel, different from other forms of biomass?

That’s a great question. So, hemp can be made into ethanol and biodiesel. In fact, in one part of “Hemp Bound,” I actually took a hemp-powered limo ride in this fun, safe limo. So that can be done. But today there aren’t cultivars that are grown specifically for that. I think the first applications we’re going to see for energy are going to be at the power plant rather than in the tank.

To give one example, there is a utility in Kentucky called Patriot Biofuels which is explicitly part of the effort to get hemp back into the soil in Kentucky. As you mentioned, Mitch McConnell, who’s a very conservative key senator, supports it. And what they want to do is plant on marginal soil that has been damaged by tobacco monoculture and/or coal mining. Because hemp has these really incredible phytoremediation, or soil-restoring qualities. It’s even been used to help clean up irradiated soil in Ukraine after the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy. It also has foot-long taproots, which really helps with aeration in the soil and creating that microclimate that soil needs for restorative soil health, and for drought-ravaged places like sub-Saharan Africa, it’s not a very thirsty crop. The first Colorado farmer that planted it last year, Ryan Loflin, said it requires about half the water he’d been using on wheat in previous years. Which means a lot, because his fellow Coloradons are dealing with the Dust Bowl out there, and if they can dryland crop hemp, that’s going to be a big deal. So what the Kentucky utilities want to do is grow this hemp, and use the biomass — through gasification, as we were discussing — to create fossil-fuel-free, carbon friendly energy.

And the second part of your question was how does it compare to other biomass. That’s a really good question. First of all, it produces so much more biomass per acre than corn or soy. So there’s so much available. But I’ve heard some European hemp consultants say that when combusted, it’s close, but it doesn’t necessarily have the total energy capacity producing per unit of some other farm waste. But you don’t produce any other crop in such high volume as you do hemp. And today, the Canadians are just burning it in the field, they’re not doing anything with it. So better to use it for energy, and the sheer volume of it makes it worthwhile as an energy crop.

You also argue that it’s a good alternative because it can disrupt this whole GMO monoculture — is that where that argument is coming from, that it would be something else we could be planting that would have more uses, as opposed to, say, corn?

Yeah. Last July 4th, I watched a fifth-generation Colorado farmer named Michael Bowman displacing a sick cornfield in the conservative part of Colorado with hemp. If it’s going to bring more profits, and be healthier for the soil, we may really see a complete about-face in the way that our food structure is going. And that’s the goal of a lot of hemp producers. John Roulac is a founder of the very profitable and fast-growing hempseed oil company Nutiva. Today he has to only deal with Canadian hemp, and he would really like to see domestic hemp. But his goal is to completely, like you said, reverse the trend of moving toward GMO and change the food structure, because it’s a healthier product; it’s actually more profitable for farmers to cultivate and for business people to invest in.

My own hope for the business model would be that we can not just localize and regionalize the energy grid as we were discussing earlier, but also the business model. I would love to see farmers in a region in the community, let’s say a section of Nebraska, or an area in Indiana (Indiana, by the way, and Tennessee are two more states that have recently legalized hemp). So a huge section of, let’s say Indiana, three counties or whatever, getting together and jointly investing in a processor that renders the seed oil, that renders fiber applications and that third energy component, so that the profits are staying in the region, the food is provided regionally, and the energy spurs an independent grid that frees us from utilities and fossil fuels.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the people you profile in the book: these early adopters of hemp? Were they mostly driven by idealism or by profits?

Another good question. I’d say it’s a combination of those. So I believe Ryan Loflin of Springfield, Colorado — there’ll be statues of him one day in Colorado because he did a very brave thing on his family’s muti-generational, very vast farm. He planted hemp when his family gets federal subsidies on alfalfa and these other kinds of crops. And he did it intentionally; he was trying to show his neighbors there is an alternative to the dust bowl that is out there. I mean really, it looks like “The Grapes of Wrath” out there in the soil. There is an alternative that will make farmers money and be good for the soil, and good for the earth, and for his kids — he has kids, too. It was brave because he could have been raided at any time, as this was before the Farm Bill passed. But also, he did another great thing which is, his point in planting those 50 acres last year was to rebuild seed stock. And there are a number of people in Colorado doing this, so that there will be seed. As I mentioned, there’s a germ problem, the great hemp genetics that we had here in the U.S. are gone. So there’s the bottom-line effort of wanting to make those big profits that Canadians make. Ryan says his father, who’s no liberal, supported his effort because they read the journals, they know what the Canadians are making on their crop.

That said, there is an activism component to hemp. There’s no question hemp is not just a plant and not just an industry, but also a movement. And the hemp brand is kind of healthy righteousness. Now, that may seem like neither here nor there, but it actually has great value. There’s a study that came out that said people’s enthusiasm about hemp, and about what hemp represents, is going to cause them to go out of their way to support it in the marketplace once American-grown hemp starts appearing in your food store, in your clothing store, in your automobile parts.

The analogy that I think of is baking soda that people use as an air freshener and the non-toxic cleaning of their kitchen and whatnot. The fact that there’s this orange box that’s inexpensive, and there’s nothing added to it, just this natural product: that’s key to the baking soda brand. We’re never going to see New Neon Super Anti-Bacterial Baking Soda because that’s off-brand. And that’s why the Canadians have banned genetically modified hemp, even though there is no genetically modified hemp. And the U.S. should do it too. The reason is that “Frankenhemp” is going turn consumers away. I have no problem with the “McHemp” sandwich at a fast-food joint. That’d be great. Just not genetically modified.

One other point on this hemp brand, and hemp being a movement: The people that have been involved in selling hemp have been really brave over the years. One of them is David Bronner, who runs Dr. Bronner’s, that multi-generational soap company that many people first discovered late at night at a party in a friend’s bathroom, with the prophetic prayers and things all over the label. He pulled one ingredient in his grandfather’s recipe, caramel coloring, took it out, and added hemp. And he sued the DEA in the ’90s to be allowed to import hemp. He only pays himself five times more than his lowest-paid employee. Puts olive oil in the soap that comes from orchards that are tended jointly by Israelis and Palestinians. Everything’s organic and fair-traded. Last year he chained himself in a cage in front of the White House with a hemp plant, demanding that American farmers be allowed to cultivate. Which, incidentally, a few months later they were. This is a $54 million, rapidly growing company. This isn’t a dude selling burritos at a Phish show. So that brand, that message of righteousness, is valuable. It actually has big bottom-dollar value. I read a couple university studies that talked about this. People are fired up about hemp, and they’re going help kickstart this industry.

So just one more question: What are the next steps that need to happen to make domestic cultivation viable in the U.S.?

Three things. First off, the U.S. needs to allow full commercial cultivation of hemp. Right now we have the university studies allowed. So what I hope people will do, what I urge people to do, is call their senators and congresspeople and support S359 on the Senate side and HR 525 on the House side, both of which will allow full commercial hemp cultivation. Which Colorado is doing anyway, but let’s get federal law on board. The second thing is, federal regulators must allow the importation of and interstate shipping of hemp seeds. Right now there’s a little bit of foot dragging going on about that. And ideally, the third thing is, for the first few years, encourage farmers via subsidies to cultivate hemp. Europe does this. We need to make our hemp crop competitive right from day one. To be honest, it doesn’t really need that, those subsidies, because it’s so profitable. But the fact that there are $300-per-acre profits by Canadian hemp today doesn’t guarantee that there will be such profits in the future. For that reason the federal government should make it very clear we want farmers to grow this crop. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the soil, it’s good for national security, it makes us a healthier nation via the seed oil and it frees us from fossil fuels. That’s really what I’d like to see five years from now. Energy, seed oil and fibers all happening with hemp around the nation.


Seven Days: Farmers need seeds to cultivate hemp crop

By Kathryn Flagg
4/9/14
Full article

Last year, activists pushing for the legal cultivation of hemp scored a big victory in Vermont: In June, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that legalizes the cultivation of cannabis sativa, a relative of marijuana that proponents say could be a lucrative value-added crop for Vermont farmers.

The only trouble? State law doesn’t match up with federal regulations, which still classify hemp as an illegal, controlled substance — despite the fact that industrial hemp lacks tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in the concentrations necessary to produce a high. The disconnect between state and federal rules isn’t scaring off many farmers, who say the feds have bigger fish to fry, but it is making it difficult to legally obtain seeds for cultivation.

Farmers’ options are limited: Some are considering smuggling seeds in from Canada, where hemp has been cultivated legally since 1998. Others are looking to online retailers to import seeds. A few have said they plan to harvest and store seeds from feral hemp plants in Vermont.

“Right now, getting seeds is nearly impossible,” said Heidi Mahoney, a garlic farmer and homesteader in Panton who once owned Fat Hen Market in Vergennes.

“[Smuggling is] not my forte,” joked Mahoney’s husband, sculptor Eben Markowski. But if seeds “magically” appeared on their doorstep, he said, “There’s no question. We would absolutely plant it.”

Why? Hemp, one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, can be used for food, fuel and fiber. The farm advocacy group Rural Vermont and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund estimate the crop could bring in between $2,000 and $3,000 an acre for farmers. Last year’s net returns in Canada were lower — $433 and $522 for conventional and organic hemp, respectively — but still brought in more than corn ($273 per acre) and soybeans ($332). It’s a good crop to use in rotation with corn, which dairy farmers grow extensively for feed, and it can help kill weeds in fields without the use of herbicides.

But hemp is still sometimes mistaken for its psychotropic relative, marijuana. That misconception is less common in Vermont, says Rural Vermont organizer Robb Kidd, but he still gets the occasional “Oh, you want to smoke it!” comment. In fact, industrial hemp contains only between 0.3 and 1.5 percent THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. Nowadays pot has much higher concentrations of THC — 13 percent on average, according to the Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project at the University of Mississippi. (That’s significantly stronger than the strains smoked in the 1970s.)

It might not get you high, but hemp has many other uses. It can be woven into fabric, or used to make paper. The fibers are used for animal bedding and can be mixed into a building product called “hempcrete.” Hemp was grown extensively in the U.S. during World War II; the U.S. Department of Agriculture even rolled out a Hemp for Victory campaign to encourage farmers to plant hemp after war with Japan cut off Asian imports of the crop. But the last hemp processing plant in the U.S. closed in the mid-1950s, as a result of hemp regulations Kidd says were based on “fear tactics” and misinformation perpetuated during the 1940s and ’50s that equated hemp with marijuana.

Twelve farmers have already registered with the Agency of Agriculture to grow hemp during the 2014 growing season. It’s a fairly painless process; farmers must send in $25 and a one-page registration form in which they acknowledge that cultivating and possessing hemp in Vermont is a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act; applicants agree to “hold harmless” the state should they find themselves in legal trouble.

The new U.S. Farm Bill, passed in February, does carve out one exception for hemp cultivation at the federal level; the bill gives the go-ahead to research institutions and universities to grow hemp for pilot projects and research. There’s still some legal confusion around the prospect, but at least one state — Kentucky — is set to put seeds in the ground this spring. The Bluegrass State’s attorney general weighed in with a favorable interpretation of the Farm Bill provision.

Scientists and agronomists at the University of Vermont are just as eager to plant this year, but seeds have to be in the ground by the end of next month. Vote Hemp’s cofounder and director Eric Lineback, who lives in Dummerston, isn’t holding his breath.

But within a year, Lineback predicted, the confusion over seed sourcing and legal questions will be “all be worked out, and you’ll see a ton of studies going next year.”

Lineback admits that his predictions about hemp aren’t always accurate; he once guessed that hemp cultivation would be legal in the U.S. by 2000, a benchmark that came and went. Now, though, he’s starting to feel cautiously optimistic that federal rules will fall into line behind states like Vermont that are exploring hemp cultivation. Federal hemp legislation has been slowly gaining steam — and sponsors — during its recurrent appearances in the U.S. House of Representatives, and last year saw the first industrial hemp bill introduced in the Senate.

“I’ve been in this issue for coming up on 20 years, and I can confidently say we are at a tipping point,” Lineback said. “It’s food, fuel, fiber, clothing, shelter. It’s really an amazing plant. It’s not going to save the world, but it’s certainly part of the solution.”

Husband-and-wife team Markowski and Mahoney say they’ve already signaled to UVM that they’d be interested in being a test site for hemp cultivation. But they’re also willing to forge ahead on their own; Markowski said he views hemp cultivation as a form of “civil disobedience.” The two live on an eclectic homestead in Panton, where their small farm is a sort of sanctuary for rescued farm animals. Ducks waddle around the yard, searching out patches of sunshine. A rescued cow, born prematurely on a dairy farm, looks on from her pasture.

The couple has a growing garlic farm, and their gardening Bible is Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent. “There’s a certain advancement to finding the most simple way to do something,” says Markowski.

With that mindset, he and Mahoney are eager to cultivate hemp. “It’s an amazing plant that so badly wants to grow,” said Markowski. Specifically, they’d love to cultivate hemp seeds for their own consumption. “It is the super food,” said Markowski.

Johnny Vitko, in Warren, is equally excited about the plant — though he plans to feed the seeds to his chickens. He and his wife own an ice cream shop in Waitsfield and keep 200 chickens, whose eggs make their way into their ice cream custards.

“It’s a great food for them,” he said, noting hemp is loaded with amino acids and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

As a small farmer, Vitko doesn’t have the infrastructure to raise corn or soybeans, but hemp would be another story; he envisions harvesting the stalks with his small, Italian-made walk-behind tractor. Eventually he’d like to turn the stalks into pellets for heating fuel. He hopes to cultivate an acre or two of hemp — enough to feed his chickens through the winter.

“I’m spending upwards of $100 a week on chicken feed in the winter,” said Vitko. “I find if I do things myself, I save more money in the long run.”

Vitko’s plan is to buy seeds online; he’s already located a source, though some hemp activists warn you don’t know what you’re getting.

There’s a sharp irony in trying to acquire seeds for cultivation, Vitko noted: “I could find high-grade marijuana seeds a lot easier than I could viable hemp seeds.”

Farmers aren’t the only Vermonters interested in local hemp production. In Middlebury, Netaka White and David McManus want to source seeds regionally for the production of canola, sunflower, flax, soybean and hemp oil. Their venture, Full Sun Company, will press the seeds to produce edible oils; the byproduct of that process will then be used for feed at local farms.

They’ve already begun producing some organic, non-GMO sunflower and canola oil. Until they can source hemp locally, they’ll contract with a Canadian producer and presser, then import hemp oil from Ontario.

White is no stranger to hemp; his background is in textile design and manufacturing, and from 1989 to 2002 he ran a bag and accessory line made from European hemp canvas. “I was fascinated by its versatility, the charm of it being related to its illegal cousin,” White said, remembering his introduction to the fiber. “It struck me as, Why don’t more people know about this?”

Now he’s excited about the possibility of local hemp cultivation. “It grows well here,” he said. “It fits to our scale of production. And there’s a whole lot of value-adding opportunities that we haven’t even begun to appreciate.”

From White’s perspective, one of the obvious markets is oil. “We’ve been telling farmers and those interested: ‘We are open for business to buy any Vermont hemp seed,’” he said, adding that Full Sun wants to be processing locally grown hemp “as soon as possible.”

While farmers and activists alike recognize and acknowledge the legal gray area that still hovers around hemp cultivation, few are expressing serious concern about the ramifications of planting. “You literally are betting the farm if you grow hemp,” said Lineback, noting that farmers who run afoul of the feds could see their land seized.

White’s Full Sun would also be risking federal prosecution for possessing hemp.

“We understand the risks and are willing to go forward in pioneering this new industry,” White said. “I would be very surprised if the federal government thought it was worthwhile to annoy or hassle a few Vermont farmers growing a non-psychoactive crop.”

Markowski, in Panton, agreed.

“You really want to make an example of salt-of-the-earth people trying to grow this kind of crop in their backyard?” he asked. “That is crazy.”


“Hemp Happening” Success

Hemp Activists gather for Rural Vermont's "Hemp Happening" event in Middlebury

Hemp Activists gather for Rural Vermont’s “Hemp Happening” event in Middlebury

Hemp Happening- March 19, 2014
By Rural Vermont Organizing Intern Kimberly Voellmann

This past Wednesday, a group of nearly forty Hemp enthusiasts gathered at Middlebury’s Ilsley Public Library, sharing a common aspiration: hemp cultivation. The desire to grow hemp plants in Vermont on a range of scales from personal to commercial and agricultural is something bringing more and more Vermonters together for collaboration. Hemp offers Vermont a great economic opportunity.

Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd stated that “Rural Vermont recognizes hemp cultivation as an opportunity to provide Vermont farmers with a highly versatile crop that gives them financial opportunity while increasing sustainability and filling the demand for local hemp products.” The plant is the source of strong fibers that can be used to produce a number of goods. Hemp seeds offer huge nutritional value, containing high levels of protein, amino acids, and Omega-3s. The seed can also be used to add to animal feed as a nutritionally dense product. There is a recognized demand for the product in Vermont, but currently no legal source of the plant.

Hemp cultivation gained a new light, and greater attention after a clear definition was created which separated the plant from marijuana, and was recognized as an agricultural product deserving of its own laws and regulations. Hemp is defined in Vermont as “the plant Cannabis sativa (L.) and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

It is currently legal in Vermont to grow hemp, as long as the grower registers with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and pays the $25 fee. However, it is illegal for individuals to grow hemp under Federal jurisdiction. The most recent Farm Bill passed by President Obama allows for hemp cultivation at research and academic institutions. The University of Vermont is ready to begin research programs with hemp, but attorneys at the university are hesitant in respect to legal implications.

Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd

Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd

Vermont Attorney, Josyln Wilsek, of Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC, spoke to the risks of growing hemp in Vermont, emphasizing that it is not legal under federal law. She laid out the reality of hemp cultivation and warned growers of what opposition they may face. This forewarning, however, did not seem to faze hemp advocates in attendance, but rather provoked greater interest and willingness to go ahead with hemp cultivation. The majority of attendees expressed interest in growing hemp on land they have already purchased, or to find out more about the prospects of growing hemp in Vermont for economic gain. Eric Lineback of Vote Hemp pointed out that we have yet to experience any opposition from Federal authorities and does not see a clear reason why they would need to interfere with Vermont growers.

Netaka White, the co-owner of Full Sun Company and an event cosponsor, expressed his company’s prospects with hemp cultivation in the state. Full Sun Company, an oilseed supplier based in Middlebury, sees the opportunity hemp seed oil offers. They currently rely on Canadian farms for their supply of hemp seed, but would like to support Vermont farmers and obtain their supply more locally. Netaka introduced Reuben Stone, a hemp farmer from Ottawa who shared a presentation via video conference about the logistics of growing hemp, and the benefits he has experienced since beginning cultivation. Since 2009, Stone has been growing two thousand acres of hemp in Canada. He was able answer a variety of in-depth questions the audience posed to him.

Rural Vermont Hemp Happening

Netaka White of Full Sun Company

The Hemp Happening was successful in bringing together hemp enthusiasts and providing an educational opportunity for those interested in entering the emergent market for hemp products. The turnout is evidence that Vermont is a promising environment in which to take advantage of the opportunity hemp offers. Attendees were loaded with questions, including concerns surrounding seed sourcing, legal risks, and applications to homesteaders, all expressing an urgent desire to start growing. As hemp is a fairly versatile plant, it offers a variety of options for people to turn it into a highly valued product. Rural Vermont expressed deep appreciation for Senator Leahy for his work in achieving hemp progress on a national level and hope this acceptance continues to grow in the future.  For more information regarding hemp in Vermont, email robb@ruralvermont.org.


VPR: New Farm Bill Boosts Hemp Cultivation In Vermont

By Bob Kinzel
February 21, 2014
Tucked away in the thousands of pages of the Farm Bill is a provision that affects the 11 states that have legalized the growing of hemp. Vermont is part of this group.
Full Article & Audio

Vermont’s law was passed last year, but the ongoing opposition of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has had a chilling effect on the cultivation of hemp in the state.

The DEA considers hemp to be a form of marijuana. But backers of hemp point out that it has very low levels of the chemicals that make marijuana an intoxicant. And they argue that hemp should not be illegal. The new Farm Bill supports their position.

Under the legislation, educational institutions like the University of Vermont can conduct field trials to determine the best variety of hemp for weather conditions in Vermont.

Heather Darby, an agronomist at UVM, says she’s excited about this project.

“Now we have the backing from the Farm Bill in one part of the federal government and also the state,” said Darby. “So the doors are opening up. There obviously are still some barriers and challenges to making all this happen.”

Darby says she would feel more comfortable if the DEA would sign off on the project.

“We’re sort of working through that to make sure we have a strong go ahead from the federal government not just sort of a soft one, I guess,” said Darby. “Because we don’t want to be caught with some significant liability and issues as well if not everyone supports this.”

Darby says another challenge will be getting hemp seeds for the trial.

Robb Kidd is the hemp coordinator at Rural Vermont, a group that strongly supports the growing of hemp in the state.

“For Vermont farmers, we see this as an additional economic benefit for the farmers who can add a product there is a high demand for,” said Kidd. “You can easily make bio fuels; you can make hemp seed oils, you can make bedding for your livestock.”

And Kidd says there are also some practical uses for hemp.

“Even just a hot bed issue in Vermont, riparian buffer zones,” said Kidd. “So with the quick growing you can actually have a little buffer crop that doesn’t require a pesticide.”

If all goes well, it’s possible that UVM will be able to launch its hemp trials sometime this summer.


Brattleboro Reformer: Hemp: The next agricultural boon?

2/1/14
Full Editorial

Tucked away in the farm bill recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives is a provision that could be huge for the proponents of industrial hemp, a plant that can be used to make rope, soaps, clothes, paper, bio-fuel, cooking oil and auto parts. In addition, its seeds are often found in food products.

The provision, authored by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow colleges, universities and state agriculture agencies to grow and do research on the crop without being penalized by the federal government. While it only applies to states where industrial hemp is legal, Vermont is one of those 10 states. The others are Colorado, Oregon, California, Kentucky, Montana, West Virginia, Washington, North Dakota and Maine. Right now, growing or using hemp is illegal under federal law. While the provision doesn’t overturn the law, it would stop federal authorities from harassing hemp farmers, researchers and higher-education institutions in those states.

“We’re hoping northern Colorado could become a real center for information and technology related to domestic industrial hemp production,” Polis told Gannett. “There’s going to be rapid progress … over the next decade and we hope that a lot of that can occur at (Colorado State University).”

Hemp has a long and honorable tradition in American History. Many of our founding fathers grew it and its fibers were used make rope and canvas products for ships, cloth for fabric and pulp for paper.

The problem with hemp however is it’s marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin and has been tarnished by the war on drugs. The plant was swept up in anti-drug efforts and growing it without a federal permit was banned in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. According to the Associated Press, the last Drug Enforcement Administration hemp permit was issued in 1999 for a quarter-acre experimental plot in Hawaii. That permit expired in 2003. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last recorded an industrial hemp crop in the late 1950s, down from a 1943 peak of more than 150 million pounds on 146,200 harvested acres.

Interest in industrial hemp has grown in recent years, following the discovery of its potential nutrition benefits in food and as a component in composite materials and bio-fuel source material, wrote Politico’s Jenny Hopkinson.

In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products, up from $1.4 million in 2000, noted the Associated Press. Most of that growth was seen in hemp seed and hemp oil, which finds its way into granola bars and other products. Sales of hemp products in the U.S. reached $500 million in 2012, according to Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, which lobbies for the legalization of the product.

“All of that’s coming from imported material,” he told Politico. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that really all our trading partners can grow these crops (but U.S. farmers can’t). I think there is no question that hemp could be a multibillion-dollar market (in the United States).”

Legalized growing of hemp has bipartisan support from Democrats from marijuana-friendly states and Republicans from states where the fibrous plant could be a profitable crop.

Hopkinson noted getting the hemp measure included in the farm bill took considerable effort.

So far in the 2014 legislative season, industrial hemp legislation has been introduced in several states including Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin, according to Vote Hemp.

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a bill allowing for hemp production. For a number of years, Rural Vermont and the Vermont Hemp Industries Association has been advocating to allow Vermont farmers to cultivate hemp.

“Rural Vermont recognizes hemp cultivation as an opportunity to provide Vermont farmers with a highly versatile crop that gives them financial opportunity while increasing sustainability and filling the demand for local hemp products.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation has been lobbying on a national level for the legalization of industrial hemp.

“At a time when small farms are innovating and diversifying to remain, competitive, we should provide every opportunity to increase farm incomes and allow the next generation the ability to continue living off the land as their families have for generations,” state Kyle Cline, policy adviser for the bureau. “Industrial hemp is one such opportunity that may work for some farmers in certain regions. Furthermore, industrial hemp will allow the U.S. farmer to share in income that is currently going overseas.”

It makes economic sense to exploit this versatile crop and allow American farmers to profit from the increased demand for hemp products.

Vermont is well-positioned to take advantage of the rapidly changing legal landscape related to hemp production. The University of Vermont conducted a study in 1996 to investigate the viability of industrial hemp and found it would provide a number of economic benefits to Vermont farmers. In addition, Vermont farmers have proven to be quite savvy in exploiting niche markets. The growth of hemp in the rugged farmland of Vermont could prove to be another venture the Green Mountain State’s entrepreneurial spirit could excel at. All we are asking is give us a chance to prove it.


Courier-Journal: McConnell secures industrial hemp in final version of Farm Bill

Jan. 27, 2014
By Patrick T. Sullivan
Full Article

The final version of the Farm Bill U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is promoting would allow state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp.

McConnell crafted the bill’s language to give Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer flexibility to cultivate hemp for pilot programs in Kentucky, according to a news release.

Following Senate and House passage of their respective Farm Bills, McConnell appointed Senate Republicans to the 2014 Farm Bill conference, the group charged with finalizing the Farm Bill.

McConnell worked with the conference to draft a final bill that gives Comer permission to move forward with pilot programs for industrial hemp cultivation.

McConnell worked with House Speaker John Boehner to protect the language from opposition in the conference, according to the release.

“This is an important victory for Kentucky’s farmers, and I was pleased to be able to secure this language on behalf of our state,” McConnell said in the release.

Senate Bill 50, championed by Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and signed into effect last year, provides a regulatory framework for hemp production in Kentucky — should the federal government legalize it. Since then, federal government officials have indicated that states that have legalized marijuana likely wouldn’t be interfered with, but no clear guidance has been given in relation to hemp.The final version of the Farm Bill U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is promoting would allow state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp.

McConnell crafted the bill’s language to give Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer flexibility to cultivate hemp for pilot programs in Kentucky, according to a news release.

McConnell worked with the conference to draft a final bill that gives Comer permission to move forward with pilot programs for industrial hemp cultivation.

McConnell worked with House Speaker John Boehner to protect the language from opposition in the conference, according to the release.

“This is an important victory for Kentucky’s farmers, and I was pleased to be able to secure this language on behalf of our state,” McConnell said in the release.

Senate Bill 50, championed by Comer and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and signed into effect last year, provides a regulatory framework for hemp production in Kentucky — should the federal government legalize it. Since then, federal government officials have indicated that states that have legalized marijuana likely wouldn’t be interfered with, but no clear guidance has been given in relation to hemp.