Vermont Votes Hemp

Vermont Votes Hemp
by Photo from Wikipedia via Creative Commons

On May 29, Vermont became the second state to legalize industrial hemp farming when Republican Gov. Jim Douglas allowed H.267 to become law without his signature. The bill creates a regulatory scheme similar to that enacted in North Dakota, the first state to reauthorize agricultural production of the non-narcotic cousin of marijuana.

Under the new law, farmers must be licensed by Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets; hemp must be grown from seeds provided by the ag secretary, on land the secretary has approved for hemp production. And farmers must agree to submit to random inspection by the ag department and/or state police.

Although the new law makes it legal to grow hemp, it is still unclear when the first hemp seeds might be sown. Indeed, farmers in North Dakota are still fighting for their right to grow the sustainable, environmentally friendly crop. The problem? Federal drug enforcers who contend that industrial hemp is nothing more than dope -- and argue that hemp fields would offer pot growers perfect cover for their illicit crop. The fact that cross-pollination would degrade any pot grown in a field of hemp hasn't exactly sunk in with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Still, Vermont hempsters are optimistic that their Congressional delegation might be willing to fight for the measure in Washington, D.C. Sen. Patrick Leahy sits on both the Judiciary and Agricultural Committees, notes hemp advocate Amy Shollenberger, director of Rural Vermont. Moreover, the new head of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Ed Shaffer, is the former NoDak governor that signed that state's hemp regulations into law.

While it is legal for Americans to possess hemp, eat hemp, and manufacture hemp products, it is illegal to grow the crop here -- meaning all hemp-containing products in the U.S. are imported, most from Canada (where hemp production was reauthorized in 1997) and China. Indeed, as it stands, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without an established hemp crop. "Vermont's federal delegation can now take this law to the U.S. Congress and call for a fix to this problem of farmers missing out on a very useful and profitable crop," said Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra. "North Dakota farmers who want to grow hemp per state law are currently appealing their lawsuit in the federal courts. The real question is whether these hemp-friendly state congressional delegations feel compelled to act."

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