Hemp Promoters Say Crop Should be Legalized, Grown in Wyoming

by Laura Hancock

Industrial hemp, a crop that’s grown for food and fiber, could be bountiful in the Bighorn Basin, near Torrington and possibly other parts of the state, according to a state lawmaker who wants the crop legalized.

Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said a hemp crop could help a rancher or farmer’s bottom line and prevent the need for agricultural subsidies.

“Agricultural producers have to diversify to survive in today’s economy,” he said.

Lindholm isn’t the only Wyomingite talking about hemp. Hemp would be legalized for agricultural production under a proposed cannabis initiative that is being championed by the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The proposed 2016 initiative would also legalize medical marijuana.

The federal government has classified industrial hemp as an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act because it contains trace amounts of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. But Lindholm said people shouldn’t worry about getting high off the plant.

“You would have to smoke a bale of it dried, and at that point, you’re suffocated to death anyway,” he said.

The Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, which is beginning to educate the public on harms of marijuana, has not taken a position on hemp, said Byron Oedekoven, association executive director. He said he’s heard concerns about hemp from the Colorado agricultural community but he hasn’t yet studied those concerns.

“It’s part of their rotation,” Saunderson said. “They find they can make money from growing hemp.”

Despite the federal ban, 20 states have passed laws that have legalized it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lindholm said he will assist in spreading the word about hemp if the proposed measure gets on the 2016 ballot. NORML will begin gathering signatures Friday. It needs over 25,000 to get on the ballot.

Lindholm also wants the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee to study hemp and consider sponsoring a bill for the 2017 legislative session. If the petition effort fails or if the ag committee doesn’t sponsor a bill, Lindholm said he will sponsor one.

The Drug Enforcement Agency states hemp and marijuana are different parts of the cannabis plant, with marijuana containing the buds, stems and resin, which contain THC, and hemp being the stalks and sterilized seeds.

However, industrial hemp is a different strain of the cannabis plant, said Kelly Saunderson, manager of public affairs for Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, the world’s largest hemp company, which sells its products at Amazon.com, Costco and at Whole Foods. Natural Grocers in Casper carries Manitoba Harvest products.

The company makes hemp protein powder, hemp oil and hemp hearts, which are raw shelled hemp seeds, she said.

Hemp hearts can be eaten by the handful or tossed on salads. Hemp oil is a culinary oil. The company recommends people use it as a finishing oil to drizzle on salad dressings or in sauces, she said.

Hemp seeds contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They’re rich in protein, she said.

“It tastes nutty,” she said, adding that hemp hearts taste like sunflower seeds or pine nuts.

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods use a variety that grows to be 4 or 5 feet tall, using the seeds from the top part of the plant. In Canada, hemp was legalized in 1998 and is mostly grown to create food products, she said.

In Europe, hemp is mostly used for fiber for clothing and rope.

Manitoba Harvest works with farmers across western Canada, who grow the crop. Many of the farmers also grow cereals such as wheat or oats, pulses such as legumes and other oil seeds such as flax and canola, she said.

“It’s part of their rotation,” Saunderson said. “They find they can make money from growing hemp.”

Manitoba Harvest hopes hemp will be legalized in the United States. Only about 1 percent of Americans are aware of or have tried hemp products. There is a huge untapped market, she said.

“We have farmers lined up across the border to sign production contracts if we ever get to that stage,” she said.

Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp in Brattleboro, Vermont, said in addition to food and fiber, companies make plastics with hemp, shampoos and soaps, bedding for livestock, hemp milk and cannabidiol oil, named after an active ingredient in hemp that is believed to could help seizure patients. CBD oil was recently legalized in Wyoming for epilepsy.

Edith Cook of Cheyenne supports the proposed initiative. She has property south of Wheatland, where hail is intense and would destroy a wheat crop. Hemp would be more successful on the land, she said.

She believes excitement over hemp might inspire a new generation of farmers.

“One of the problems is their children don’t want to take over the business,” she said.

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