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State agriculture commissioners push industrial hemp

Associated PressBISMARCK, N.D. – Allowing North Dakota farmers to cultivate industrial hemp will be “extremely complicated” under present federal laws, Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson says.
Johnson and state agriculture commissioners from Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin met Friday in Washington, D.C., with Joseph Rannazzisi, a Drug Enforcement Administration official, and other agency representatives.
The North Dakota Legislature has pushed for industrial hemp research and production since 1997, but federal drug laws greatly restrict efforts to cultivate the crop.
Industrial hemp resembles marijuana, an illegal drug, but has only trace amounts of the chemical that makes a pot smoker high. Industrial hemp is used to make paper, clothing, cosmetics, rope and other products.
Production is legal in Canada, and Johnson says industrial hemp could be a useful alternative crop for North Dakota farmers. Last year, the Legislature authorized North Dakota State University to gather and study wild hemp seeds, and develop improved variants for cultivation.
Johnson said his department is drafting rules to accompany recent state laws that encourage hemp production. He quoted DEA officials as saying that growers, processors and importers of hemp seed would have to be separately licensed, and that the DEA would have to establish quotas for industrial hemp production and processing.
“The DEA people were very cordial, but they told us that the process of legalizing the production of industrial hemp will be extremely complicated under existing federal law,” Johnson said in a statement after the meeting.
Steve Robertson, a DEA special agent, said the agency’s responsibility is to enforce the law, not to write it.
“We’re very aware of the dangers of any controlled substance or anything that smacks of a controlled substance,” Robertson said.

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