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Maine Legislative Committee Strongly Endorses Hemp Cultivation Bill
04/09/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

A legislative committee has given strong support to a bill that would legalize industrial hemp production in Maine. By a vote of nine-to-one, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee has endorsed the idea of loosening restrictions on hemp cultivation, which is currently legal to grow in Maine only for experimental purposes. Susan Sharon reports.

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Supporters of the bill say its only intent is to allow Maine farmers to diversify their crops. Hemp can be used to make paper, rope, clothes and fuel oil. But historically, hemp production has been so closely associated with its cousin, cannabis, that some believe it has simply become another victim of the war on drugs.

While the Canadian government has authorized an industrial hemp program for about 15 years, U.S. prohibitions prevent farmers from growing it because it is still considered a Schedule 1 drug. That's starting to change. Legislation is pending at the federal level to relax the rules for hemp, and Kentucky has just authorized its use.

But Paul McCarrier, a Maine lobbyist with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association, told committee members that there are still licensing safeguards in the Kentucky legislation that are similar to Maine's.

"This is a very small step. I believe it's the same thing, where it has to be approved by the Department of Agriculture's Commissioner, but if the commissioner decides that the person or the entity is trustworthy enough, is reputable enough, to grow industrial hemp than they'd be able to allow those licenses to be there," McCarrier said.

Maine's bill would do away with a provision that requires applicants for an industrial hemp license to submit fingerprints to the state, and with a another that requires federal approval for licenses to grow it. The bill, as amended, would also ensure that hemp seeds come from Canadian-approved distributors that restrict THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Only one committee member voted against the bill, which now heads to the House and Senate for further consideration and votes.



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