An effort to encourage the feds to decriminalize industrial hemp died a quick death today in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee when five Republicans, all sitting in a row, voted to not even print the bill.
The print hearing, which is required before a bill gets a full public hearing, started off with an apparent well of support behind the resolution. Not only was committee chairman Tom Trail sponsoring it, but Reps. Eric Anderson, a Republican from Priest Lake and Brian Cronin, a Democrat from Boise were there to back the bill as well.
All three presented the ban on hemp as an economic issue. Trail said Canadian farmers get $200,000 an acre for the seeds. Anderson said that even car fabrics now use the stuff.
"Probably not a day goes by when we are not around a hemp product," he said.
And Cronin brought a box of hemp milk (an Idaho dairy lobbyist countered in the hallway afterward that it's not in fact milk since it did not come from a mammary gland) which is available up the street at the Boise Co-op, to demonstrate the hypocrisy that you can by the by-products, but you can't grow the raw materials.
But Rep. Dennis Lake questioned the sponsors on why hemp was banned in the first place, raising concerns that hemp and marijuana plants appear very similar and may present problems for law enforcement.
While they do appear similar, Trail asserted that they are grown in different fashions—hemp is a row crop— and that marijuana growers would be making a big mistake hiding their plants in fields of hemp because they would cross pollinate and dilute the effects of the marijuana.
Trail also assured the committee that industrial hemp contains very little to no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
"To get a high you'd have to build a cigar the size of a telephone pole," he said, quoting a Canadian expert.
Cronin pointed out that the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper and that the wagon trains out west were covered in hempen cloth. But that was not enough to convince the committee, which voted 5-5 to send the resolution back to Trail.
Anderson and Cronin said after the hearing that they would continue to work with law enforcement and other interests to push a full discussion on the merits of hemp farming to Idaho.
"This was important to have this hearing today," Anderson said. "It's an important dialogue that needs to be heard."
February 10, 2010