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House Hears Hurrahs For Hemp

Derek Owen would be pleased.

He's the Hopkinton farmer and long-time State Representative who for years and years attempted to bring some sanity to our laws regarding the cultivation of the benign substance known as hemp.

Derek has left the scene, but the mantle has been taken up by other representatives, including first term Nashua Democrat Michael Garcia, the prime sponsor of House Bill 153 which would simply remove industrial hemp from the designation of "a controlled substance".

Hemp bills in the past have been rather complicated; this one is brilliant in its simplicity, and guess what?  When the bill was heard before the Criminal Justice committee last week, not a soul showed up to testify in opposition.  A spokesman from the Attorney General's office was there, but simply to point out that the feds would still object to hemp cultivation.

Committee members, if one can judge from the tone of their questions, weren't all that concerned about Obama sending the feds to raid hemp fields in New Hampshire.

In fact, committee members seemed very fond of this bill.  Some even asked questions supporting Rep. Garcia's points--namely that hemp was a prime crop back in colonial times (I even recalled how Louis XIV sent settlers to Quebec with specific reference to growing hemp); that hemp is a durable crop which can be used for many things from clothing to hand location (Rep. Garcia even passed around samples); to an observation that perhaps hemp was made illegal because it would compete with the synthetic products of companies like DuPont (lobbying money, you know).

I've been around for numerous hemp hearings, including when Rep. Owen and I were both on environment and agriculture.  Never has a hemp bill received such an overwhelming response as this year. 

Don't be surprised if it comes out of Criminal Justice with a unanimous ought to pass motion; don't be surprised if it passes the House overwhelmingly, but then comes the tough part.  It's been in the Senate where lobbyists have massed to kill similar efforts in the past.

One lobbyist who will not oppose the bill is former House Speaker George Roberts who, removing his orange lobbyist badge, said he appeared before us as a farmer in support of making hemp cultivation legal.

He was not alone in support.

Somehow I get the feeling that this is the year New Hampshire will decriminalize hemp, a substance which should in no way be confused, as its detractors try to do, with marijuana.  In fact, we learned that hemp planted in a field of marijuana will actually destroy the marijuana crop.

The arguments are age-old at least as far as the New Hampshire House is concerned.  I took pages of notes, but I get the feeling they won't be necessary.  As former Senate President Juni Blaisdell used to say, "When you've got the votes, shut up and vote."

Derek Owen will be pleased indeed. 

Passasge of this bill is the biggest no brainer to ever come along.

Here's just a small sample of what we can learn about hemp with google these days.

Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America*

Ernest Small and David Marcus

*This paper was considerably improved by criticism provided by A. McElroy.

“Hemp” refers primarily to Cannabis sativa L. (Cannabaceae), although the term has been applied to dozens of species representing at least 22 genera, often prominent fiber crops. For examples, Manila hemp (abaca) is Musa textilis Née, sisal hemp is Agave sisalina Perrine, and sunn hemp is Crotolaria juncea L. Especially confusing is the phrase “Indian hemp,” which has been used both for narcotic Asian land races of C. sativa (so-called C. indica Lamarck of India) and Apocynum cannabinum L., which was used by North American Indians as a fiber plant. Cannabis sativa is a multi-purpose plant that has been domesticated for bast (phloem) fiber in the stem, a multi-purpose fixed oil in the “seeds” (achenes), and an intoxicating resin secreted by epidermal glands. The common names hemp and marijuana (much less frequently spelled marihuana) have been applied loosely to all three forms, although historically hemp has been used primarily for the fiber cultigen and its fiber preparations, and marijuana for the drug cultigen and its drug preparations. The current hemp industry is making great efforts to point out that “hemp is not marijuana.” Italicized, Cannabis refers to the biological name of the plant (only one species of this genus is commonly recognized, C. sativa L.). Non-italicized, “cannabis” is a generic abstraction, widely used as a noun and adjective, and commonly (often loosely) used both for cannabis plants and/or any or all of the intoxicant preparations made from them.

Probably indigenous to temperate Asia, C. sativa is the most widely cited example of a “camp follower.” It was pre-adapted to thrive in the manured soils around man’s early settlements, which quickly led to its domestication (Schultes 1970). Hemp was harvested by the Chinese 8500 years ago (Schultes and Hofmann 1980). For most of its history, C. sativa was most valued as a fiber source, considerably less so as an intoxicant, and only to a limited extent as an oilseed crop. Hemp is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber, with extant remains of hempen cloth trailing back 6 millennia. Hemp grown for fiber was introduced to western Asia and Egypt, and subsequently to Europe somewhere between 1000 and 2000 BCE. Cultivation in Europe became widespread after 500 ce. The crop was first brought to South America in 1545, in Chile, and to North America in Port Royal, Acadia in 1606. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois between 1840 and 1860 because of the strong demand for sailcloth and cordage (Ehrensing 1998). From the end of the Civil War until 1912, virtually all hemp in the US was produced in Kentucky. During World War I, some hemp cultivation occurred in several states, including Kentucky, Wisconsin, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, and Iowa (Ehrensing 1998). The second world war led to a brief revival of hemp cultivation in the Midwest, as well as in Canada, because the war cut off supplies of fiber (substantial renewed cultivation also occurred in Germany for the same reason). Until the beginning of the 19th century, hemp was the leading cordage fiber. Until the middle of the 19th century, hemp rivaled flax as the chief textile fiber of vegetable origin, and indeed was described as “the king of fiber-bearing plants,—the standard by which all other fibers are measured” (Boyce 1900). Nevertheless, the Marihuana Tax Act applied in 1938 essentially ended hemp production in the United States, although a small hemp fiber industry continued in Wisconsin until 1958. Similarly in 1938 the cultivation of Cannabis became illegal in Canada under the Opium and Narcotics Act.

Hemp, grown under license mostly in Canada, is the most publicized “new” crop in North America. Until very recently the prohibition against drug forms of the plant prevented consideration of cultivation of fiber and oilseed cultivars in Canada. However, in the last 10 years three key developments occurred: (1) much-publicized recent advances in the legal cultivation of hemp in western Europe, especially for new value-added products; (2) enterprising farmers and farm groups became convinced of the agricultural potential of hemp in Canada, and obtained permits to conduct experimental cultivation; and (3) lobby groups convinced the government of Canada that narcotic forms of the hemp plant are distinct and distinguishable from fiber and oilseed forms. In March 1998, new regulations (under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) were provided to allow the commercial development of a hemp industry in Canada, and since then more than a thousand licenses have been issued. Hectares licensed for cultivation for 1998–2001 were respectively, 2,500, 14,200, 5,487, and 1,355, the decreasing trend due to a glut of seed produced in 1999 and pessimism over new potential regulations barring exports to the US. Information on the commercial potential of hemp in Canada is in Blade (1998), Marcus (1998), and Pinfold Consulting (1998). In the US, a substantial trade in hemp products has developed, based on imports of hemp fiber, grain, and oil. The American agricultural community has observed this, and has had success at the state level in persuading legislators of the advisability of experimental hemp cultivation as a means of evaluating the wisdom of re-establishing American hemp production. However, because of opposition by the federal government, to date there has only been a small experimental plot in Hawaii. Information on the commercial potential of hemp in the US is presented in the following.

Cannabis sativa is extremely unusual in the diversity of products for which it is or can be cultivated. Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) touted hemp as “the new billion dollar crop,” stating that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.” Table 1 presents the principal products for which the species is cultivated in Europe, all of which happen to be based on fiber. This presentation stresses the products that hold the most promise for North America, which also include a considerable range of oilseed applications (Table 2; Fig. 1).

Table 1. Hemp fiber usage in the European Union in 1999 (after Karus et al. 2000).

Class of product Quantity
Specialty pulp (cigarette paper, bank notes, technical filters, and hygiene products) 24,882 87
Composites for autos 1,770 6
Construction & thermal insulation materials 1,095 4
Geotextiles 234 0.8
Other 650 2.2
Total 26,821 100

Table 2. Analysis of commercial Cannabis product potential in North America in order of decreasing value toward the right and toward the bottom.

Seeds (achenes) Long ("bark) fiber Woody stem core Female floral (perigonal) bract Whole plant
Confectionary, baked goods Plastic-molded products Animal bedding Medicinal cannabinoids Alcohol
Salad oil Specialty papers Thermal insulation Essential oil (for flavor & perfume) Fuel
ody care "cosmetics Construction fiberboard Construction (fiberboard, plaster board, etc.) Insect repellant Silage
Animal food (whole seeds for birds, presscake for mammalian livestock) Biodegradable landscape matting & plant culture products      
Gamma-linolenic acid dietary supplements Coarse textiles (carpets, upholstery)      
Specialty industrial oils Fine textiles      

Fig. 1. Major uses of industrial hemp.

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Reader Comments (3)

Sadly, Cannabis sativa L. is in non-compliance with the Fibonacci sequence, and as a consequence, must remain banned until it comes into compliance.

Will growing hemp in New Hamsters be a right, or a privilege? Is it like a gun, or a marriage? If the latter: "can I get me a hemp license around heeya?"
– C. dog, ever the riddler
January 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC. dog
Don't we have more important issues?
January 31, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdave
If Real Republicans™ were wicked smaat, they would marry pot de-prohibition legislation with Skool Choice: one side gets a loosening of binders on somefin' it wants, and the same for the other side. Why, it's a match made for the State House under the gilded dome. This sausage might even be palatable.
– C. dog laying the groundwork for bipartisan gestures
February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC. dog

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