Hemp growing going legit

Colorado Hemp being harvested
Colorado Hemp being harvested
A volunteer walks through a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, Colo., during the first known harvest of industrial hemp in the U.S. since the 1950s. AP

The US government is ready to let farmers grow hemp – at least the kind that can’t get people high.

Hemp – marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin that’s used to make everything from clothing to cooking oil – could soon be cultivated in 10 states under a federal farm bill agreement that allows the establishment of pilot growing programs.

The plant’s return to legitimacy could clear the way for US farmers to compete in an industry currently dominated by China. Even though it hasn’t been grown in the US, the country is one of the fastest-growing hemp markets.

In 2011, the US imported $US11.5 million ($A13.14 million) worth of legal hemp products, up from $US1.4 million in 2000. Most of that growth was seen in hemp seed and hemp oil, which finds its way into granola bars and other products.

“This is big,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a Washington-based group that advocates for the plant’s legal cultivation. “We’ve been pushing for this a long time.”

Legalised hemp growing had congressional allies from both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats from marijuana-friendly states have pushed to legalise hemp cultivation, as have Republicans from states where the fibrous plant could be a profitable new crop.

“We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican Kentucky, said in a statement. McConnell was a lead negotiator on the inclusion of hemp in the farm bill.

After the full House and Senate agrees on the bill, state departments of agriculture then must designate hemp-cultivation pilot projects for research purposes.


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