Many consider hemp to be a harmless renewable cash crop with thousands of applications.
Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center in East Thetford grows organic produce and plants. Owner Will Allen would love to also grow hemp.
"This is another cash crop that would make farmers a lot of money and they could diversify a small amount of their acreage and make quite a bit of money," Allen said.
Industrial hemp can be used to make everything from oil and seed products to cleaning supplies to paper and clothing. There is even a store in Burlington devoted to selling hemp products. Other countries grow the hemp for these products, including Canada.
"With hemp you can make a lot of different products like this shirt is made of hemp, this bag here and other cloth," said Robb Kidd of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont.
The Vermont Legislature passed a bill this past session allowing farmers to grow hemp in Vermont if the federal government would allow it. But that won't happen because hemp is related to marijuana, which means it is considered a controlled substance, the same as pot, heroin and LSD.
Hemp supporters, including the group Rural Vermont, say there is a major difference between the plant cousins: Hemp won't get you high. Hemp contains only traces of THC, the compound found in pot.
"So if you were to smoke hemp you would just get yourself sick with a headache and no actual high from it," Kidd said.
But the feds won't budge unless Congress passes a bill exempting hemp from the controlled substance umbrella. There has been some movement on the hemp front in Washington, D.C. A hemp amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill has been introduced and could come up for a vote next week.
"So we are looking hopefully on getting some good positive feedback from that," Kidd said.
In the meantime, Allen will continue his quest to gain support for Vermont farmers who want to grow hemp.
"Yeah, it's related to marijuana, but poppies are related to opium poppies-- it's the same issue. We don't stop growing poppies because they are related to opium poppies. We grow poppies because they are beautiful and we should grow hemp because it's useful," Allen said.
While Native Americans may have grown hemp and introduced the plant to early settlers, it will remain illegal to grow for the time being.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch supports a House bill that would allow farmers to grow hemp to the extent it is permitted by state laws. A spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy told us this issue intersects with a variety of other policy areas and the senator is gathering information to evaluate it.
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