Albemarle supervisors show interest in hemp as cash crop - The Daily Progress: News

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Albemarle supervisors show interest in hemp as cash crop

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Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2013 5:53 pm | Updated: 7:18 pm, Sun Jan 20, 2013.

Hemp, a robust, fast-growing plant with uses ranging from food to fiber to biofuel, could be the cash crop economically ravaged areas like Southside Virginia need to jump start their economies, its proponents say.

Albemarle County could soon join a long list of Virginia localities, including Charlottesvile, that have signed resolutions to separate industrial hemp from marijuana. The supervisors will consider a resolution at their February meeting.

Earlier this month, Montgomery County Supervisor James D. Politis was invited before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to make the case to legalize industrial hemp.

Politis' presentation painted a sunny picture of the weed, made infamous by the 1937 film "Reefer Madness."

Politis said it has almost 25,000 different uses, and could be planted extensively across the commonwealth, particularly in areas that were once known for sprawling tobacco farms.

But there's a problem. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration doesn't differentiate hemp, which is used to make shirts, biodiesel and building material, from marijuana, its potent, illegal cousin.

Both plants are a form of cannabis sativa, which became a Schedule I controlled substance with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Two bills -- one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate -- that would have excluded hemp from the definition of marijuana failed in 2012.

According to the DEA, there is no difference between industrial hemp and marijuana. To the administration, because both plants contain tetrahydrocannabinol -- the substance that makes smokers high -- they fall under the same category.

" Hemp and marijuana are actually separate parts of the species of plant known as cannabis ," reads a post on the DEA website.

According to hemp's allies, that isn't the whole story.

"Under the Marijuana Tax of 1938 and the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, all cannabis was put in the same category," Politis said. "But there are as many kinds of cannabis as there are canines and felines; some of them will bark at you, some of them will bite you."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, industrial hemp is less than 1 percent tetrahydrocannabinol. The cannabis people smoke -- better known as pot, weed or grass -- contains between 3 percent and 15 percent of thc.

"I think the objections to hemp in the past have been that the police have a hard time telling them apart in the field," said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker. "But I think we are denying farmers a significant opportunity that is going to be an expanding opportunity in the world, and I think that the basis for that denial is very weak."

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd was less enthusiastic than Rooker.

"I'm actually open to anything that is going to promote economic vitality, but as is always the case, I'm sure there is another side to the story," he said. "I'm a little bit anxious to hear from law enforcement because the argument that I have heard in the past is that [hemp] is similar to marijuana and can be used as a substitute for marijuana."

The United States currently imports tons of the plant in the form of fiber, seed oils and car parts. In 2012, the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center valued the industry at $419 million.

Those imports come primarily from Canada and China, Politis said.

Hemp production is legal in Canada, China, much of Europe, Russia and Australia, according to the DEA.



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