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Don't overregulate Oregon's hemp industry

I feel we need to set the record straight in regard to the Indian Hemp Plant, commonly known as Marijuana. As you know, with the passage of Measure 91 marijuana is now legal to grow in Oregon for the first time in almost 80 years.

Eighty years ago, before the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act, farmers grew various cultivars of the Indian hemp plant (Cannabis Sativa), producing food, fiber, fuel and medicine. Now there are thousands of products that can be made from this most valuable natural resource.

In 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine did a cover story about hemp's potential to become the next billion-dollar crop. That was in 1938 dollars, so you can just imagine what a hemp crop could be worth in today's market.

There's a lot more to this story. Hemp has been grown for at least 10,000 years. The earliest known relic of industry is a scrap of hemp cloth over 8,000 years old. Hemp is our heritage, which we are finally waking up to.

For most of this country's history, if someone wanted to plant a crop of hemp they would just get out a bag of seed and plant it. George Washington said "Make the most of the hemp plant. Sow it everywhere for the good of the nation."

Now we have a situation where four states have legalized marijuana. In Oregon, Measure 91 passed by nearly 12 percent, with 847,865 voters in favor of allowing persons over 21 to cultivate four cannabis plants per household. Suppose 500,000 Oregonians choose to do that; that's 2 million more cannabis plants planted in Oregon, which does not include the hundreds of thousands of plants already being grown for medicine.

With the passage of the Farm Bill In Congress in 2014, states that have existing laws to grow "industrial hemp" will not be harassed by the federal government. So you say, "Cool, let's get on with it!"

I agree, but there are still some obstacles, this time coming from the Department of Agriculture in Salem. Their license fees are prohibitive and their rules are overly restrictive.

There are 15 pages of rules covering the growing and handling of hemp seed. Give me a break! Farmers already know how to grow and handle seed. There's more: Not just any hemp seed will do. No, it has to be the low-THC dwarf varieties coming out of Canada. And Canadian law prohibits export of fertile hemp seed to the U.S. As it happens, that degenerate variety they call industrial hemp will yield less than a third as much seed oil as other, more robust, high-THC varieties. Look at the crops shown in the 1942 short film "Hemp For Victory" for comparison.

THC is supposedly the problem, and was the excuse for hemp prohibition in the first place. That's why they still say the THC levels need to be so low. But wait a minute; legalization now changes everything. THC should now become a non-issue. Remember, Oregon could soon have 2 million home-grown high-THC plants. So why stop farmers from growing the most productive varieties, unless keeping hemp from competing with other major industries was the real motive for hemp prohibition all along.

Remember what George Washington said: "Make the most of hemp for the good of the Nation." Not "make the most rules and regulations!" Hemp was so vital to the early American colonies that they could not have survived if rules like these had been in place.

There is so much more to this subject. Hemp can greatly strengthen Oregon's economy and self-sufficiency, but only if we are allowed to grow it without a lot of counter-productive restrictions. If you want to help fix this, call the folks at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and tell your representatives, and our new governor.

Leo Goodman lives in Cave Junction.