Minnesota: Lawmakers Eye Hemp for Revenue

March 3, 2011 – A bipartisan slate of 30 legislators — from liberal Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn to conservative Rep. Mark Buesgens of Jordan — are proposing legislation to allow Minnesota farmers to grow industrial hemp. The Industrial Hemp Development Act would legalize hemp plants while maintaining strong restrictions on marijuana possession. The bill even includes the collection of fees from farmers as revenue to run the program; during time of budget deficits, it won’t cost the state anything.

“The legislature finds that the development and use of industrial hemp can improve the state’s economy and agricultural vitality and the production of industrial hemp can be regulated so as not to interfere with the strict regulation of controlled substances in this state,” the bill states.

Currently, the United States imports the bulk of its hemp from China and Canada, and it’s used in the production of paper, rope, food, oils, biodegradable plastic and low-carbon concrete. According to Ray Hansen of the Iowa State University’s Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the retail value of hemp products imported to the United States in 2007 was $350 million.

Eight states have approved hemp farming: North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency has so far refused to weigh in on whether hemp farmers would be prosecuted for growing the plant, which is the same species as marijuana but lacks the chemical composition to intoxicate users.

In North Dakota, farmer and Republican state Rep. David Monson has filed suit against the federal government for not clarifying the rules about hemp production. His state has been granting hemp production licenses for several years and many farmers have been reluctant to grow the crop for fear of imprisonment.

The proposed bill would set up a similar application and inspection system in Minnesota to ensure that the hemp grown in the state cannot also be used to get high.

Interested farmers must pass a criminal background check, and their seeds must have documentation certifying that they don’t contain the active substances in marijuana. Farmers also have to submit information about sales of harvested hemp to the commissioner of agriculture.

The commissioner can inspect field and test plants to ensure they aren’t marijuana. And fees from hemp growing applications will pay for the program.

A similar bill passed the House agriculture committee in 2009, but died before reaching Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk.

The bill was introduced by DFL Reps. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis, Andrew Falk of Murdock, Tina Liebling of Rochester, Michael Paymar of St. Paul, Kent Eken of Twin Valley, Lyle Koenen of Clara City, Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, Erin Murphy of St. Paul, Karen Clark of Minneapolis, Carlos Mariani of St. Paul, Mindy Greiling of Roseville, Rick Hansen of South St. Paul, Tom Rukavina of Virginia, Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis, Leon Lillie of North St. Paul, Jim Davnie of Minneapolis, Marion Greene of Minneapolis, Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis, Kate Knuth of New Brighton, Dianne Loeffler of Minneapolis, Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis, Bill Hilty of Finlayson, Sheldon Johnson of St. Paul, and Alice Hausman of St. Paul.

Republicans who introduced the bill are Paul Torkelson of Nelson Township, Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Greg Davids of Preston, Bob Gunther of Fairmont, Jim Abeler of Anoka, and Mark Buesgens of Jordan. Source.

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