This article was in Tuesday’s Post Star newspaper regarding Industrial Hemp and its possible agricultural economic development for Washington County. What do you think? Dana
Supervisor: Grow hemp in Washington County
October 14, 2013 8:30 pm • JAMIE MUNKS – [email protected]
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff wants to start a grassroots movement to push for relaxing industrial hemp restrictions, because of what he sees as economic potential in the agricultural county.
Haff wants to see legislation at the county that would both support the easing of industrial hemp restrictions and also push the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to allow local law enforcement to use discretion about how to use drug eradication grant funding.
Industrial hemp is sourced from the same plant family as marijuana, and so is prohibited under federal drug laws. But a growing number of states are adopting conflicting laws, defining industrial hemp and allowing for its growth and processing. The Department of Justice earlier this year said the federal government would generally defer to states when it comes to marijuana laws.
Haff believes if industrial hemp could be grown locally, it could be a big business in Washington County.
“I think it would start out as a niche market,” he said.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are related, coming from different cannabis strains, with marijuana coming from the flowers and leaves and industrial hemp utilizing the stalks and seeds. The two differ in their levels of tetrahydrocannibinol, the chemical that creates psychoactive effects.
According to a University of Vermont study on the viability of industrial hemp, the THC levels in marijuana can vary from 3 percent to 15 percent, but are less than 1 percent in plants grown for industrial hemp.
Hemp can be used to make a variety of products — rope, clothing and paper products; and its seeds are pressed for oil and can be used in cosmetics, paint and ink. Finished hemp is legal in the U.S., and is used in the manufacture of various goods. But under federal law, it can’t be grown here, so it’s imported.
But now North Dakota, Maine, Vermont, Oregon and Colorado are among states with laws that classify industrial hemp differently than marijuana. Montana’s statute says industrial hemp that doesn’t contain more than .3 percent THC is an agricultural product, and state-licensed hemp growers can grow, harvest, process and sell industrial hemp.
Oregon’s law doesn’t classify industrial hemp as a controlled substance, and also allows state-processed growers to possess and produce it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Haff has contacted state and federal legislators about the issue, and he’s pushing the effort at the county level, with plans to introduce legislation at a board committee meeting.
The second part of Haff’s push calls for encouraging flexibility in how drug eradication funds can be used, and moving away from cannabis eradication.
Last month at a county Board of Supervisors meeting, Haff said he’d like to see funds intended for cannabis eradication used instead to root out drugs like heroin. His statement followed a vote by the board to accept a federal cannabis eradication grant.
The Sheriff’s Office, in a collaborative effort with other law enforcement agencies, pulled up 3,000 marijuana plants in August as part of annual eradication efforts.
Despite any movement elsewhere in the country toward legalization, marijuana is still illegal here and enforcement of those laws will continue, Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said.
The $10,000 grant supervisors accepted last month was tagged specifically for eradicating marijuana.
“It’s take it or leave it,” Board of Supervisors Chairman John Rymph said.
Rymph said he remains unsure how additional funding will help the hard drugs issue.
“I don’t think you can bounce money against the wall and have the problem go away,” Rymph said. “I don’t think it’s that easy.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is constantly targeting heavily addictive drugs like heroin, Murphy said. If the cannabis eradication efforts, which occupy two days a year, weren’t fully funded by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, or were taking away from regular patrols or other activities, he wouldn’t fund them in his own budget, Murphy said.
“Three hundred sixty-five days a year, we’re doing everything we can to stop heroin from coming into the county and being sold in the county,” he said.
A number of busts were made recently along Route 149 in Washington County, a passageway from downstate to Rutland, Vt., where heroin is a persistent problem.
Washington County Jail has seen an influx of heroin users. At one point, the number of female inmates exceeded the space available for women at the jail, and some of them had to be boarded out at other facilities. Murphy estimated 90 percent of those women were serving time related to heroin — whether for using, dealing or stealing to support their habit.
Murphy is in the early stages of exploring an addiction treatment program. Heroin users who are in withdrawal when they get to the jail are treated for their medical symptoms. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem, Murphy said.
“They’re all sick when they come in,” he said. “We’re arresting people, they’re in for a month or two, they get out and start using again. It’s a revolving door, it’s clogging up the legal system and we’ve got to break the cycle.”