Cultivation of hemp in Minnesota sought by Ventura with new bill

Andy Skemp

After appearing on the cover of High Times magazine’s spring ’99 issue, Gov. Jesse Ventura has finally put his signature where his mug is.
On July 1, Ventura signed the House Omnibus State Government Finance Bill, a provision of which mandates that he seek federal permission for Minnesota farmers and researchers to register to cultivate hemp.
Industrial hemp is used to manufacture a myriad of fibrous products like paper, clothing and personal hygiene products. It differs from marijuana in that it cannot be used as a narcotic, but is still considered to be illegal under federal regulations.
“It’s time for the country as a whole, and specifically the agricultural Midwestern states, to seriously consider hemp as an option,” said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
The amendment requires that the governor submit an application for federal permits for Minnesota growers. It also requires the state to develop forms and a registration system for those who wish to register.
Kahn, who authored the amendment, sees the bill as a major step in the right direction, but admits there are still some major hurdles ahead.
“Essentially, nothing can happen until the (federal Drug Enforcement Administration) decides whether it will change its current regulations or not,” said Kahn.
Despite the governor’s move, Kahn expressed doubts that the request will catalyze changes within the DEA’s policy.
While prospective growers wait for federal permits, local stores like The Hemporium in Dinkytown and Sativa’s Closet in the Mall of America are already making profits in a growing market of hemp products.
Sam Baxter, owner of Sativa’s Closet, said his business has been increasing at his store, where most customers are 35- to 50-year-olds and are willing to spend $150 to $200 per visit.
Most hemp commodities are costly because the raw material must be imported. Baxter sees the growing of hemp in Minnesota as a way to both increase his business and make hemp products cheaper for consumers.
“In-state growth means lower prices, which means that more people can afford it,” Baxtor said.
Chris Hanson, the head administrator at the University’s Center for Alternative Plant and Animal Products, agrees that the growing market is an important one.
But whether or not hemp could be a successful crop in Minnesota depends not only on success in the storefront, but in the field and factory as well, Hanson said.
“Our advantage in hemp would be as it has been with any other agricultural product in Minnesota,” said Hanson. “It would come down to being able to produce a quality product locally.”