Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, thinks U.S. farmers should be able to grow industrial hemp. It has been a legal food ingredient since last February, when the Ninth Circuit Court overturned a longstanding ban implemented by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The irony, however, is that manufacturers have had to turn to Canada, China or other countries to source the hemp, because growing it for industrial purposes is still illegal here. ?The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop,? according to a January 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. Paul hopes to change that with the introduction of a bill on Thursday.
?The bill essentially allows states to have authority over regulating hemp farming. It also defines what hemp is—no more than 0.3 percent THC in the flower or 100 parts per million or less in the seed or oil,? said Adam Eidinger, a spokesman for Vote Hemp, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of industrial hemp. THC is the ingredient that makes marijuana, derived from the leaves of the hemp plant, psychoactive. The bill grants individual states power to determine whether hemp farmers must be licensed or registered. ?We?re just trying to empower these states to at least get the crop going,? Eidinger said.
There?s no clear data on how much U.S. manufacturers spend to import hemp, but the retail value of imported hemp products in 2003 totaled $7 million, according to CRS. Eidinger estimated Canadian farmers are growing between 15,000 and 20,000 acres of hemp this year. ?What?s in the ground now is already sold. These farmers are working under contract,? he said. American farmers could profit from hemp, both because of the demand—American consumers spend about $200 million a year on hemp products, from cars with hemp bumpers to personal care products and breakfast cereals made with hemp, Eidinger said—and the ease of growing the crop. ?You can neglect the crop,? he said. ?As long as the soil has a little nitrogen and it rains a little bit, the crop will thrive. It really doesn?t need pesticides or herbicides. It grows so close together that no weeds can grow in it.? Additionally, hemp would provide an alternate source of income for farmers who grow less lucrative crops, such as corn. And as the supply of domestic hemp increases, retailers and consumers would enjoy lower prices for hemp-based products.
The bill has numerous proponents, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader and North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, who will launch the bill with a presentation and luncheon, catered by Dennis Cicero, chef/owner of New York?s Galaxy Global Eatery, which features numerous hemp-based dishes.
Despite the wide-ranging support for the bill, Eidinger predicts it will have a tough time in Congress. ?It?s not seen as an important issue,? he said. ?It probably won?t go anywhere this year,? but he hopes to get hearings for it in front of the Agricultural Committee by next spring and get a vote on it before the current Congress leaves office. With some resignation Eidinger assessed the situation: ?It?ll be a year before we get action on this.?