Hemp bill cruises through Vermont Legislatur​e, but DEA stands its ground

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Photo by Andrew Stein

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Photo by Andrew Stein

Last week, the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee unanimously voted to create a state-sanctioned process to grow hemp, despite federal regulations essentially prohibiting the action.

Under the bill, hemp is defined as Cannabis Sativa with a tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, concentration of 0.3 percent or less. The low-potency form of marijuana is touted in the bill for its long-standing market presence and strength in industries like textiles, clothing, bio-fuel, paper, cosmetics and more.

Rep. Teo Zagar, D-Barnard, supports the bill. “The governor likes to say we have an agricultural renaissance happening, and I think this bill could accelerate that,” Zagar said. “Hemp is an amazingly versatile, valuable and productive crop that could serve a number of needs in Vermont and give farmers a bunch of new tools.”

The House Agriculture Committee re-drafted S.157, which passed out of the Senate at the end of March. The bill would replace a Vermont statute that permits the growing of industrial hemp, but only when federal regulation permits it.

The new provision, however, runs afoul of federal regulations, and House members say Congress must step in to legalize hemp.

“We’ve got to send a message,” said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “This is the kind of message I think will mean something to the federal delegation, and Sen. Leahy’s committee has a hemp bill before them.”

In January, Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration asking for information about the way in which the agency regulates hemp. Last week, Leahy received a response from Eric Akers, deputy chief of the DEA, reiterating that cannabis is an illegal, controlled substance.

“Under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of potency,” Akers wrote. The DEA allows growers to register for the the legal cultivation of cannabis with a long list of requirements.

Akers wrote that he couldn’t tell the senator how many people had sought to cultivate cannabis for industrial purposes because the administration doesn’t track the information. Since 2000, three of eight applicants were granted permission to grow hemp, according to Akers, and one of the registrations is pending until “required security measures” are taken. The other four applicants were denied because they would not install the feds’ security measures.

“DEA believes the current regulatory framework governing these types of applications … remains adequate,” Akers concluded. “In this vein, please note that even those cannabis plants that have a relatively low THC concentration provide a substantial source of psychoactive material that would be readily exploited by drug seekers — for example, manufacturers of ‘hash oil’ — if inadequate security measures were tolerated.”

The registration process that the State of Vermont would impose under the House bill would be much more lax than the federal law. It would require the grower to submit to the Secretary of Agriculture his or her name and address, a statement that the cannabis variety does not exceed the state potency threshold, and the location and acreage of the hemp parcels. The bill would give the Agriculture Secretary the power to leverage an annual $25 registration fee for administration purposes.

The Vermont registration literature would also come with the following caveat: “Federal prosecution for growing hemp in violation of federal law may include criminal penalties, forfeiture of property, and loss of access to federal agricultural benefits, including agricultural loans, conservation programs, and insurance programs.”

One person who might be willing to risk such penalties is Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, who owns Golden Russet Farm.

“I’ll look into the option as part of my management plan,” Stevens said. “I’d be happy to look at it as part of our crop rotation. If hemp fits into that, fine. And if we can figure out ways to harvest it and market it, even better.”

Robb Kidd, an organizer for the advocacy group Rural Vermont, said he knows numerous farmers who are interested in the prospect. Rural Vermont has been advocating for the legalization of industrial hemp production for almost a decade. He says the bill that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee is the group’s “ideal, dream bill.”

“Times have changed dramatically,” he said. “Everybody has realized the economic opportunity. They have realized we need to get this moving, and the federal government delay is not helping.”

Correction: Rep. Teo Zagar represents Barnard, not Woodstock.


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Comments

  1. Mike Kerin :

    Hemp doesn’t have the same properties of pot. It has many uses and would make a good cash crop for Vermont farmers. It is not a drug, so the DEA should not be involved in any way.

  2. Carl Marcinkowski :

    The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not recognize the value of industrial hemp and permit its production. Stubborn or what? I’ll take ‘what’, meaning money from competing industries such as timber, cotton and many others. It’s all about payola.

    • Rob E :

      I agree Carl. Sad part is at one point in history our founding fathers did recognize its importance as a crop. Just one example of how as things change its not always for the better.

  3. sandra bettis :

    yup – and oil. we wouldn’t want to get rid of all that plastic.

  4. Making hemp illegal is just another example of our ridiculous and hypocritical drug laws regarding marijuana. The “reefer madness” attitude of the DEA and others in Washington is truly mind boggling.

  5. Fred Woogmaster :

    How much has the Federal legal status of hemp been challenged? I have been hoping forever that some smart,courageous governor would come along, armed with a super smart Attorney General, and find a viable legal route for a challenge to this absurd classification. What WOULD it take? It seems that our congressional delegation can not be relied upon for such a challenge.

  6. Bonnie MacBrien :

    Same old, same old…never let sound science get in the way of making stupid “drug” laws! DEA wake up!!

  7. Roger Hill :

    We are stuck with ideas that originated from old white men that are stubbornly carried through. Time to defeat these stodgy stubborn people on all scales.

    It’s really sickening how artificial so many laws are on the books and their protectorate need be challenged on all levels.

  8. Kevin Hunt :

    The DEA’s claim that someone is going to make
    ‘hash oil’ from industrial hemp is absurd. Hemp contains a minimum 2:1 ratio of CBD:THC, which means that no matter how hard an amateur chemist tries to concentrate the plant material, it will not produce a high.

    I can’t believe that we waste our tax dollars on the DEA. It’s time to de-fund them.

  9. Fred Woogmaster :

    State produced hemp, on state land, especially on prison property, would produce sufficient revenue to fund the entire ‘corrections system’.

    “Making hash oil from industrial hemp” is truly absurd.

  10. Fred Woogmaster :

    Just a thought: The headache medication industry would benefit enormously if people smoked hemp. I understand from ‘reliable sources’ that all you GET is a headache. I can imagine the glossy tv ad – the one that comes on just after the one that promotes smoking hemp – (the pharmaceutical ad)- “Gotta hemp headache? Get your doctor to prescribe Rumstab, brought to you by GD Searle.”

  11. I am thrilled that after 2 cycles of running for Guv’ner for the specific purpose of getting the move into hemp accelerated that we have the movement we see. Hemp into hash oil? Absurdity from idiots.

    Look for my continued political action work in the coming cycle, I will be with” De Udder Party” we have good things planned for you!

    Thak you Robb Kidd and all the great open minds that are ready for the hemp future, I want a hemp car, and a hempcrete home, don’t you?

  12. Jason Farnam :

    All VT needs is a governor with balls. Tell the Feds if they come here to meddle with farmers growing hemp that they will be arrested. End of story. State sovereignty is paramount!

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