Monday, May 23, 2016

Industrial Hemp in Colorado: A stupefying inconsistency

By the Journal Star editorial board

In Boulder, Colorado, a shopper can stop at the Helping Hands Dispensary and buy a few buds of Chupacabra, described as “a very potent, uppity strain that's ideal for daytime medicating and full-on ripping.”
It’s marijuana, classified as a Schedule 1 drug like heroin and LSD, but there’s no problem.
The feds have decreed a hands-off policy of enforcement of the federal marijuana law for states that have voted to legalize the plant.
So it’s a stupefying example of government inconsistency that the Drug Enforcement Administration has snarled red tape around a request from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to import seeds of hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, for research.
The hemp seeds can contain no more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high.
University researchers wanted to plant two acres of industrial hemp for research this year. But they’ve been forced to drop the plan. It’s illegal to transport hemp seeds across state lines.
“I think it will take an act of God for us to get that permit and get everything squared for us to plant this year,” said Héctor L. Santiago, assistant dean of the Agricultural Research Division in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.
The door for more research was supposedly opened by the 2014 Farm Bill. Hemp already accounts for $580 million in annual sales, according to the Congressional Research Service. Hemp is used in everything from textiles to fiber board that is stronger and lighter than wood to paper products.
Bastcore, a startup based in Omaha, is developing machines to process hemp. Now it’s looking at setting up a facility in Colorado. Bastcore founder John Lupien said the DEA is “doing this on purpose to mess everything up.”
Kentucky also had problems with the federal government. The DEA seized 250 pounds of hemp seeds. But the agency backed down after the state sued. Last year Kentucky universities and farmers planted 922 acres of hemp.
Nebraska is trying to do everything by the book. State senators have passed legislation to allow pilot projects to study hemp.
It hasn’t worked.
To be fair, the Democratic Obama administration shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame for the problem.
The Republican-controlled Congress could have approved a legislative fix. In fact Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sponsored a bill to remove hemp from the definition of marijuana in federal law. But – no surprise – Congress has not been able to get the job done.
Whatever they’re smoking in Washington these days definitely seems to impair judgment and productivity.

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