Industrial hemp nears wider approval in U.S.

If Jason Lauve is right, industrial hemp may become an everyday crop in the United States sooner than expected.

Lauve, founder and executive director of Hemp Cleans, a non-profit based in Colorado that lobbies for the regulation and cultivation of industrial hemp, said U.S. federal lawmakers are looking at legislation that would allow American farmers to grow hemp commercially.

“There’s a bill being brought (forward) next session… at the federal level that’s going to take the hemp regulatory system to the federal conversation,” Lauve said.

Thomas Massie, a Kentucky congressman, said Bill 525 would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.

According to Vote Hemp, an industrial hemp lobby group, 50 members of the House of Representatives are co-sponsors of the bill.

Lauve said prominent senators also support hemp legislative reform.

“We have people like Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell … to see that they’re engaged in this conversation, tells me that we’re going in the right direction,” said Lauve, who thinks Bill 525 could become law in 2015. “I think it’s actually going to be in the next year.”

The talk in Washington, D.C., may be encouraging to advocates like Lauve, but hemp production has moved well beyond the conversation stage in Colorado.

The U.S. farm bill, passed this winter, featured an amendment permitting the cultivation of hemp for re-search purposes.

Agriculture departments and universities in states that have passed legislation allowing hemp production can initiate research projects.

Colorado universities are pursuing hemp research and the state’s agriculture department issued more than 100 registrations permitting farmers to grow hemp.

Veronica Carpio, a grower who also markets hemp coffee, said a diverse coalition supports Colorado’s nascent hemp industry.

In Kentucky, another state pursuing a hemp industry, university researchers harvested a crop at 15 locations.

However, several roadblocks re-main.

Capio said acquiring enough seed and making sure it is of the proper type and quality are key.

This spring, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized 120 kilograms of imported industrial hemp seed from Italy, which was destined for re-search projects in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture filed a lawsuit, claiming the seizure was illegal. The federal government relented and turned over the hemp seeds to Kentucky officials.

To make a point about importing hemp seed, a colleague of Lauve’s purchased 200 kg of seed in MacGregor, Man.

He attempted to transport it across the border south of Cartwright, Man., but U.S. customs officers seized the seed and federal officials have refused to release it.

Lauve said the U.S. has to resolve the issue of moving seed across borders before industry can thrive.

“That’s not only an issue with Canada but also an issue with the EU and the Asian countries,” he said.

“This is an international conversation at this point.”

  • Eighteen states have removed barriers to industrial hemp production, including North Dakota and Montana.
  • Three states — Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont — had research plots in 2014, as permitted by the U.S. farm bill.
  • In 2014, hemp legislation has been introduced or carried over in 28 states.

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