Defending the most versatile crop on earth

Why it’s in everyone’s best interest to re-examine our state and federal laws about growing help

DUMMERSTON — Legalizing the cultivation of hemp is one of the most important social- and economic-justice issues of our times.

The United States remains the only advanced nation in the world which allows the importation and sale of hemp raw materials and finished goods, but bans its farmers from growing the crop.

With American consumers now spending over $500 million annually on hemp products, our farmers are tired of being left out - they want the option to grow hemp.

On May 13, the Vermont Legislature passed S.157, the Hemp Bill, which will allow Vermont farmers to plant hemp as early as this year by simplifying existing law and making it effective upon passage without waiting for a change in federal policy.

The bill now goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin, whom we expect will sign it into law.

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What is hemp, and why is it so valuable that it was once even used as currency?

In short, hemp, a non-drug variety of the plant Cannabis sativa L., can sustainably provide the raw materials for all of mankind's most basic needs: food, fuel, clothing, and shelter. And that is precisely why it can and should be part of any concept of (or plan for) a strong and vibrant Vermont.

Hemp is the most versatile crop on earth and has been for thousands of years. It creates markets in industries currently plagued by environmental chaos, providing solutions as well as profits.

The proper use of this crop will encourage the development of social, economic, and political systems that return the power over land use to the people who live and work on it and will create broad-based regional prosperity and independence.

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This year has proven to be one of the most politically active and exciting for hemp and its proponents.

In the 2013 legislative season, pro-hemp legislation has been introduced in 20 states so far. Since 1995, 31 states have introduced and 19 have passed legislation, including nine that have defined hemp as distinct from marijuana and removed barriers to its production.

However, despite state authorization to grow hemp, farmers in those states still risk raids by federal agents, prison time, and property and civil-asset forfeiture if they plant the crop, due to the failure of federal policy to distinguish non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis (i.e., hemp) from psychoactive drug varieties (i.e., marijuana).

But that might soon change.

To help resolve the state/federal conflict, two hemp bills have been introduced in the 113th U.S. Congress so far: House bill H.R.525, the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013,” and its Senate companion bill, S.359.

The bills define hemp, exclude it from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and give states the exclusive authority to regulate it under state law. An amendment to the Farm Bill, based on the same language, was also recently introduced in the Senate.

If either the amendment or standalone legislation passes, federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of hemp should disappear.

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It is notable that Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, is embodied in the statue that sits atop the Statehouse in Vermont, which has a long history of farming and extensive experience in agriculture.

Indeed, without the noble values embodied by our small, family farmers - independence, self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, hard work, perseverance, and a strong sense of community - there would be no Vermont as we know it.

With broad-based political support behind us and environmental renewal, independence, and a potential economic bonanza before us, the choice to fully deregulate and commercialize the hemp plant is clearly one of common sense.

It is going to take a strong, independent state like Vermont - and perhaps some brave and determined Vermont farmers like Will Allen and Will Stevens - to ultimately break through the federal quagmire.

This is the turning point for hemp in this country. Let's seize the moment and stand up for the future of Vermont's farmers, businesses, and citizens.

We have an unprecedented opportunity before us to establish an early foothold in this exciting and promising emerging “green” industry and to give our citizens access to a natural, renewable resource that can truly change our future for the better.