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Hemp crop may be boon to Vermont

RICHMOND-Hemp is more than a plant - it's a lightning rod. The hardy plant some call a weed has both passionate supporters and detractors. The fiberous plant, a unique source for fiber and a drug called marijuana, is a native of Asia, but it has found a home in many temperate and neotropical climates.

In Vermont, one of the largest supporters of the development of hemp as a commercial product, is the organization Rural Vermont, an advocate of the plant as a viable agribusiness here. Now the farm group has linked up with the national advocacy group Vote Hemp to celebrate and promote Hemp History Week May 2-8.

In several political and agricultural communities within Vermont, there has been widespread support for hemp since the 1990s, but the road to growing hemp legally has been rocky.

While Vote Hemp officials cite strong support here, based on the 2008 law which ended up legalizing industrial hemp in Vermont, they also note a federal law which now prevents local farmers from growing the plant - legally.

To address this and other issues relating to commercial hemp production, Rural Vermont has joined a national coalition to change the federal barrier. The organization wants to position Vermont as one of the first states to plant the versatile crop.

According to Shelby Girard of Rural Vermont, Hemp History Week calls for states coast-to-coast to return the plant to legal crop status.

Unlike illegal marijuana, also a hemp plant, most commercial hemp varieties do not produce the narcotic-like chemicals of marijuana; instead the plant's amazing fiber is tough and versatile and can be processed for use in a multitude of products, he said.

"Individuals and organizations across the country will be honoring America's rich history with industrial hemp," Girard said. "(Hemp History Week) will generate increased support for the relegalization of hemp farming in our country."

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