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Hope For Hemp
By Mary Losure
January 6, 1999
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As the state legislative session begins, many interest groups are still waiting to see what stands Governor Jesse Ventura will take on specific issues. But supporters of industrial hemp already know exactly how the governor stands on their issue. During his campaign, Ventura spoke out clearly in favor of legalizing industrial hemp, and he's reaffirmed his position since then. Hemp promoters now see new hope for what they call a promising and environmentally friendly alternative crop.

In the final days of the last legislative session, former Governor Arne Carlson vetoed a bill that supported the study of industrial hemp. Under the Ventura administration, the bill would have faced no such obstacle as Ventura the candidate made clear.

Ventura: Industrial use of hemp will get signed if it comes to my desk. I have no problem with it. To me, it's another viable commodity. It's not harmful, it would give farmers an alternative. If they've got land that sits aside and doesn't do a darn thing, that stuff will grow on it. Rest assured of that.
Industrial hemp, which is grown for fiber and other uses, is the same species as marijuana, Cannibis Sativa. Hemp, however, is a different variety, with very low levels of the active ingredient in marijuana. Hemp growing is illegal in Minnesota under both federal and state law. David Morris of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a Minneapolis and Washington D.C.-based environmental group, says Minnesota farmers are missing out on a crop that could be profitable, and could also benefit the environment.
Morris: Hemp is a multipurpose crop. It's a fiber crop, and Minnesota lacks a fiber crop right now. Therefore, it could substitute for flax, which makes linen. It could substitute for cotton. It requires no pesticides. So it's much more environmentally benign than cotton, for example. It also can substitute for soybeans. It's an oilseed. It has high protein and, once again, it requires no pesticides.
Although hemp growing is prohibited, it is legal to import hemp fiber and hemp derived products. Supporters of industrialized hemp say the demand for such products is growing.
Sullivan: These are hemp in here. These are a hemp from Australia. These are hemp and cotton blend.
At The Third Stone Hemp Goods in Minneapolis, trendy hemp clothing fills the racks. There are hemp pants and shirts that that look like linen, hemp jackets that look like wool, along with hemp-trimmed fleece coats, hemp hats, and even hemp running shoes. The shop also sells hemp-oil skincare products and soap. Owner Terry Sullivan says her customers are environmentally aware consumers who want their purchases to make a difference.
Sullivan: People who really are making a concious choice. The environmental impact [is] something people are concerned with right now.
Not all of Sullivan's customers come to her shop just to make a difference in the environment, though. On sale are T-shirts that say "legalize it"; "it" meaning marijuana, not hemp. There's a head shop with smoking paraphernalia in the back of the store and a display case with books on growing marijuana indoors and in cold climates. Opponents say these kinds of links between hemp and what they call the "drug culture" are the reason industrialized hemp should not be legalized.
McDougal: It's not so much a crop or an industry as it is a movement.
Janette McDougal is co-chair of Drugwatch Minnesota, the state chapter of the drug education network Drugwatch International. She says the push to legalize industrial hemp is part of a three-pronged effort to legalize marijuana.
McDougal: The three strategies are personal marijuana use, marijuana cigarettes as medicine, and industrial marijuana hemp.
McDougal, a Twin Cities drug-abuse-prevention teacher, testified against a bill to legalize industrial hemp introduced in 1997 by Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. A representative of the State Bureau Of Criminal Apprehension also testified against the legalization bill. A weakened form that would have authorized a study of industrialized hemp passed both houses in 1998 with the support of the Minnesota Farmers Union and the Minnesota Agrigrowth Council before being vetoed by former Governer Carlson. An aide to Moe says he'll introduce a new bill this session, either to study or legalize industrial hemp.