Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hemp farmers challenge DEA in court

This story is a couple of days old, but it's really encouraging.

Today two North Dakota farmers were in federal court trying to get the court to "force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers." The WaPo article outlining the case isn't quite as accurate as one might like, even though some of the dubious phrases might have been coined to defuse the association with "devil weed" and make the reader more sympathetic. For example, it calls hemp "a strait-laced cousin of marijuana." Not a bad metaphor, and somewhat helpful, but not exactly right.

Hemp, to be sure is routinely grown -- and it is routinely grown overseas, in Canada, Ireland, France, Kazakhstan, Hungary, China and elsewhere -- from seeds that have been bred to have a lower THC content (around 0.3 percent) than the seeds that a planter of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use would want to use. But the most important difference betweeen cannabis planted for hemp and cannabis planted for buds is the way they are planted. When it's grown for hemp, the valuable stuff is the fiber and cellulose in the stalk, which is virtually devoid of THC content not matter what kind of seeds are used. So it is planted close together, so the stalks will grow tall, and it is typically harvested before it even begins to bud. The smaller the stalk the finer the fibers, and the finer the fibers the finer the fabric that can be made of it.

Much of the hempen fabric one can buy at various places -- I had several hats I gave away and I still have a couple, along with a pair of pants -- is moderately rough, more like canvas than a cotton bedsheet, reflecting the fact that farmers typically let the plants grow until the stalks get fairly thick, because they get more that way. But people have made fine lace from hemp, and if there were a more robust hemp market, there would be demand for a wide variety of fabric. The finer thread made from finer fibers would probably command a premium price, so the fabric would be more expensive.

Anyway, I haven't been able to find out what happened in court today -- and it's likely the case was heard and the judge will not issue a ruling until later -- but I'll stay on it and provide updates as they are available.

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