LEXINGTON, Ky. -- More than 25 years after hemp was last grown in America legally, a group of farmers and trade organizations plans to sue the federal government today to make hemp a lawful crop again.
The plaintiffs intend to argue in U.S. District Court in Lexington that the illegal status of hemp, by definition of the Controlled Substances Act of 1972, violates a 1937 determination by Congress that the plant poses none of the psychoactive problems caused by its cousin, marijuana.
The plaintiffs say in their lawsuit, the first of its kind, that Congress had stipulated hemp, which has many commercial uses, was different from marijuana and that hemp's prohibition by the Drug Enforcement Administration violates the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers of government.
But the central thrust of the legal action is economics, with thousands of farmers throughout the South and Midwest looking at hemp as another crop to include in their annual rotations that now involve grains, vegetables and tobacco.
For many of the farmers, particularly those here in eastern Kentucky who are almost wholly dependent on tobacco for their income, hemp would provide a viable hedge as a disease-resistant plant -- especially when the future of tobacco in the country is so uncertain.
As the region's most valuable crop, tobacco can generate as much as $5,000 an acre in gross sales. Most food crops, like corn, soybeans and wheat, don't have anywhere near that kind of return. But farmers like Jim Barton, whose family raised hemp in Lexington when it was last legal -- during a "Hemp for Victory" drive in World War II -- predicted that an acre of hemp could gross as much as $1,200.
"Hemp is no more controversial today than tobacco is," said Andrew R. Graves, a plaintiff in the suit as president of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Council, a group of 60 would-be hemp farmers, including Barton.
"You go into any store and you can buy hemp products. But he and I as farmers" -- he pointed to Barton -- "get no portion of that money. That makes no sense to me."
Imported hemp products, now manufactured in more than two dozen countries, including Canada, have been abundant in the United States for years. They include animal feed, shoes, clothes, paper products and bedding for horses.
Pub Date: 5/15/98