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Disaster looms for experiment

Published on February 8, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on March 8, 2013 9:30AM


Some members of the Washington Legislature are excited about the prospects of getting farmers to grow hemp.

It's difficult to see why. It's not like the hemp market is booming or that hemp is the next big thing in agriculture. Far from it.

Nonetheless, they want Washington State University to study the economics of growing hemp in Washington.

We may be mistaken, but we thought the Legislature had far more important issues on its plate than hemp.

We'll save WSU the time, money and effort of studying hemp and boil the whole issue down to a single question: Are you crazy?

Hemp and its cousin, marijuana, are difficult to tell apart. Under federal law, both are illegal. Any farmer growing hemp or marijuana in Washington or any other state would have a lot of explaining to do if a Drug Enforcement Administration officer showed up. The farmer would need a good lawyer and a chemist to convince the DEA that he wasn't growing marijuana for sale.

Washington state voters made a huge mistake last fall when they decided to legalize pot. The new law will take a small public health and law enforcement problem and transform it into a huge problem.

Those who believe that pot is just another victimless crime and that growing hemp is a rotation crop with no associated problems need only to look to the north to find out how deluded they are.

In Canada, growing hemp is legal. In fact, 60,000 acres of hemp are cultivated there, and it is used for all sorts of things, including rope, biofuels and cloth. All is well in Canada, we are told. Yep, they've got it all figured out.

That's the story proponents of hemp like to tell. But, as Paul Harvey used to say, there's also the rest of the story.

Canada has another name besides the Great White North. It's the Toker Nation. Marijuana is overtaking Canada, just as it will Washington and Colorado, the two states that last fall voted to legalize it. In fact, you can bet much of the pot that will show up in Washington state comes from Canada.

About 1.5 million Canadians -- 4.3 percent of the population -- smoke marijuana, according to the Canadian Medical Association. Canada produces about 1.6 million pounds of marijuana each year, according to the International Narcotics Control Board. The value of that crop is estimated $5 billion to $7 billion annually -- far more than the value of hemp.

In Kentucky, the Legislature has directed the University of Kentucky to study the economic potential of growing hemp. That has set off a firestorm among the state's law enforcement community, which sees hemp mainly as a good cover for growing pot.

They're right. Hemp and marijuana look alike, and under federal law both are still illegal to grow.

Unless and until Congress decides differently, our advice to state legislators and farmers is to stay away from it.


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