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Maine Lawmaker Proposes Legalizing Industrial Hemp
03/28/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Marijuana discussions in the Maine Legislature this session have focused on the kind that's used for recreation or medical purposes. But a legislative committee this afternoon considered the value of pot's cousin: industrial hemp. One Maine lawmaker has introduced a bill that would legalize industrial hemp production in the state for use in rope-making, food products, pulp, and fuel. As A.J. Higgins reports, the bill is similar to one approved Wednesday by lawmakers in Kentucky.

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Cindy Brown arrived at the legislative hearing with bag full of hemp products. She had hemp oil, hemp fabric, hemp soap, all kinds of hemp-like things. She told members of the Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation Committee that Maine could open up a whole new industry, if the state could free itself from the federal regulations that discourage industrial hemp cultivation.

"We don't have to do it that way," Brown said. "We are a free souvereign people. I believe that. I was raised an American, United State of - and I believe these things."

So does state Rep. Lance Harvell, a Farmington Republican. Harvell is sponsoring a bill that would do away with a regulation that requires applicants for an initial industrial hemp license to submit fingerprints to the state. It would also repeal a state provision that requires federal approval for licenses to grow industrial hemp.

Harvell says there are thousands of acres in Maine that could be used to grow hemp and create new opportunities to manufacture products from the weed. The lawmaker says it's one thing to lose U.S. manufacturing jobs to world markets because of cheap foreign labor, but it's another to perpetuate outdated policies on hemp prohibition.

"But when you actually are putting in place a prohibition that is not even allowing your farmers to grow a product that has a variety of uses in the modern world - to me that's a bit of a travesty," Harvell said.

Proponents of Harvell's bill say hemp was once used to make dozens of products including paper, rope, clothing and fuel oil, but the plant got caught up in a national effort to prohibit marijuana and other cannibis-containing substances. Harvell says that while hemp does contain some cannibis, there's no reason for national concern.

"I don't know how much rope you'd have to smoke to get to high - my guess is you'd probably have to give up about a foot into the roll," Harvell said.

Some states have gone beyond just considering hemp production: On Wednesday, the Kentucky Legislature approved a bill that permits industrialized hemp production - if and when the federal government legalizes production of the crop.

Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp, which advocates for legalizing industrial hemp production, says he was pleased that law enforcement officials in Maine have not registered opposition to the bill.

"Those types of things are good to have because it's getting past the controversy and the legislators can actaully look at the merits of the bill," Murphy said.

Maine does have a marijuana cultivation law on the books that requires federal approval for those who want to cultivate industrial hemp crops.



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