Bipartisan bill aims to aid economy with hemp production

Washington hemp 500
Bipartisan bill aims to aid economy with hemp production 
Budget-neutral measure backed by 30 legislators
By Andy Birkey
A bipartisan slate of 30 legislators — from liberal Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn to conservative Rep. Mark Buesgens of Jordan — are proposing legislation to allow Minnesota farmers to grow industrial hemp. The Industrial Hemp Development Act would legalize hemp plants while maintaining strong restrictions on marijuana possession. The bill even includes the collection of fees from farmers as revenue to run the program; during time of budget deficits, it won’t cost the state anything. 
“The legislature finds that the development and use of industrial hemp can improve the state’s economy and agricultural vitality and the production of industrial hemp can be regulated so as not to interfere with the strict regulation of controlled substances in this state,” the bill states. 
Currently, the United States imports the bulk of its hemp from China and Canada, and it’s used in the production of paper, rope, food, oils, biodegradable plastic and low-carbon concrete. According to Ray Hansen of the Iowa State University’s Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the retail value of hemp products imported to the United States in 2007 was $350 million. 
Eight states have approved hemp farming: North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency has so far refused to weigh in on whether hemp farmers would be prosecuted for growing the plant, which is the same species as marijuana but lacks the chemical composition to intoxicate users.
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