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Reason Foundation

A weed to watch out for

Skaidra Smith-Heisters
June 26, 2006, 10:58am

California and North Dakota could have licensing structures in place by the end of the summer for farmers and researchers that want to grow hemp. Once pending laws in these state legislatures pass, intrepid individuals seeking a two-year license to grow the crop will have the unenviable right to pay an application fee, pay for a full state and federal criminal background check on themselves, get fingerprinted, have their property GPSed, submit samples of their crop for regular laboratory testing, and report the sales of their crop to the government (the crop can only be sold to other licensees). And that's either after getting a permit from the federal government or shortly before having your business ransacked by the DEA. Meanwhile, they don't call it "weed" for nothing: the plant grows wild throughout the Midwest. Here's a gem from a South Dakota news station earlier this month:
Someone spotted suspicious buds growing outside the Federal Courthouse and new Federal Building in downtown Sioux Falls. Someday the beds will be flowers or grass, but somehow we don't think developers had this kind of grass in mind. Just to be sure it wasn't some other weed posing as marijuana, we had it tested, and sure enough, it's ditch weed, or low grade pot, right outside the very building where people are put away for dealing it.
No one wanted to stir the pot by going on camera and talking about the mishap, but city officials and a developer KSFY spoke with say it's most certainly an accident. Crews bring in dirt for major construction projects like this one and more than likely, the seeds were sitting in the soil, just waiting to sprout.
Ditch weed is relatively easy to find growing wild in this part of the country. It was initially grown for the hemp used to make rope during World War II. And, even though the THC level, that is it's psychoactive property, is very low, it is still illegal. And now, it's sitting right outside the building that will house the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"Ditchweed," the Cannabis variety that grows wild in the US and has no value as a drug, is big business for the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program: a quick internet search shows that these plants constituted 99% of plants seized in 1996, 99% of plants seized in 2003, and 262 million plants (99%) of those seized in 2004. Hemp products are the only agricultural products in the United States that are currently legal to import and sell, but not to grow. So the lesson, apparently, is that you can buy hemp, eat hemp, wear hemp, drive hemp–but if you find hemp growing wild on your land or you have the audacity to want to grow it, you'll be getting a visit from the federal government. Unless, of course, you are the federal government.

Skaidra Smith-Heisters is Policy Analyst


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