North Dakota Issues Nation's First Hemp Permits

North Dakota issued the nation's first licenses to grow industrial hemp Tuesday to two farmers who still must meet federal requirements before they can plant the crop.

The farmers must get approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which treats hemp much the way it does marijuana and has not allowed commercial hemp production but has said it would consider applications to grow it.

Hemp is a cousin of marijuana that contains trace amounts of the chemical that causes a marijuana high, though hemp does not produce the same effects. The sturdy, fibrous plant is used to make an assortment of products including paper, rope, clothing and cosmetics.

Industrial hemp cultivation is legal in Canada and other countries but is banned in the United States. Law enforcement officials worry that industrial hemp can shield the growing of marijuana, although hemp supporters say that fear is unfounded.

The North Dakota Agriculture Department approved rules late last year for hemp production with the DEA's concerns in mind, State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson has said.

The state issued permits Tuesday to Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson, who is also a legislator. The state Agriculture Department is processing 16 other hemp applications, Johnson said.

"It's taken us a lot longer than (expected) to get here, and I'm thinking we still have a ways to go," said Monson, the House assistant Republican majority leader.

Joseph Rannazzisi, an administrator with the DEA, said federal law does not allow the agency to delegate its ability to regulate hemp to state officials. Although the DEA may waive registration requirements, it has done so only for law enforcement officers and other officials, he said.

Johnson asked the DEA in December to waive its $2,293 registration fee, but federal officials rejected that request. Johnson said he will hand-deliver Hauge's and Monson's applications when he meets with DEA officials in Washington early next week to try again to persuade them to relax the annual fee requirement.

North Dakota is one of seven states that have authorized industrial hemp farming. The others are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia, according to Vote Hemp, an industrial hemp advocacy organization based in Bedford, Mass.