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Farm bill fine print: North Dakota researchers can grow hemp

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You might say the farm bill approved by Congress this week may finally put North Dakota farmers over the hemp.

The Fargo Forum reports a provision in the bill authorizes university researchers in the state to plant the type of cannabis used in industrial hemp.

It's not the same type of cannabis used in marijuana but it's similar enough that it's been restricted under federal drug laws. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring tells the Forum that even though the state legalized hemp production years ago, the federal barriers have prevented farmers from planting it.

According to the group Vote Hemp, North Dakota is among ten states that have legalized production. If the farm bill is signed into law by President Obama, land grant universities in those states will be able to plant research plots of hemp.

Commissioner Goehring tells the Forum inclusion of the provision came out of the blue and was a surprise. But one of the states it affects is Kentucky, which is home to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Wall Street Journal reports interest in hemp among Kentucky farmers has grown as tobacco production has waned.

Al Jazeera America reports the global market for hemp is currently dominated by China. But the network says U.S. imports are growing fast and reached $11.5 million in 2011.

The president of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance tells the Forum the acreage planted in that country has increased tenfold in a decade. He says most Canadian hemp is grown for its seeds, which are crushed to make oil used in food and industrial products.

After more than two years of haggling over a new comprehensive ag policy, a new five-year farm bill now awaits President Obama's signature. It was approved by the Senate on Tuesday after passing the House last week.

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