Vermont: Welch joins House effort to allow industrial hemp
By Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press
Vermont supporters of hemp received a boost Tuesday when U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., signed on as a co-sponsor of The Industrial Hemp Farming Act.
That measure, introduced five months ago in the House by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, would remove federal restrictions on the cultivation of hemp, a crop Paul calls a non-drug variety of cannabis grown for oilseed and fiber. Hemp and other varieties of cannabis are now classified as marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and cultivation of hemp in the United States is effectively banned, requiring a special permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hemp is used to make a variety of products, including clothing, drinks, skin butters and auto parts. Virtually all the hemp used in products sold in the U.S. is grown in more than 30 other countries, including China and Canada. Unlike marijuana, according to the pro-hemp lobby, industrial hemp has a psychoactive content so low that it won't produce a high if smoked.
Vermont is one of nine states that has enacted legislation that would permit controlled hemp cultivation or research -- contingent on federal authorization, which the Paul bill would provide.
The local campaign to legalize industrial hemp has been spearheaded by Rural Vermont, a farmers' advocacy group with about 750 members. Rural Vermont pushed for the state enabling legislation, which passed three years ago, and has been lobbying Welch to endorse the Paul bill.
The organization contends that hemp, as a crop option, would open up "significant economic opportunities" for Vermont farmers and for processors of such "value-added" products as food-grade oils, rope, paper and animal feed.
Welch's office said Tuesday that he had signed on to Paul's bill, H.R. 1831, joining 26 other co-signers, many of them liberal Democrats.
Permitting cultivation, Welch's statement said, "will allow Vermont farmers and small business owners to compete in the growing worldwide market for hemp products."
Rural Vermont praised the decision.
"It's a great step for the congressman to take," said Jared Carter, director of Rural Vermont, "recognizing the opportunity that industrial hemp provides to Vermont farmers."
Paul has introduced an "Industrial Hemp Farming Act" in each of the past four congressional sessions, but none of the bills has advanced to the Senate. The current bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Along with Vermont, the other states to pass measures reducing barriers to production or research of hemp are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and West Virginia.
Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tim on Twitter at www.twitter.com/flyonthe.