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Bill would set up Vermont permits for hemp farming

MONTPELIER — Members of Vermont’s House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday ­appeared to support allowing farmers to grow hemp, legislation that could put any farmers who plant it on a collision course with the US Drug Enforce­ment Administration.

The committee heard testimony on a measure that passed the Senate in March that would give farmers the option of growing the same plant that produces marijuana.

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Although plants grown for hemp are raised differently and contain very low levels of marijuana’s active ingredient, the crop remains illegal under federal law. But supporters of the bill say there’s little risk that hemp plants would be diverted for the drug trade.

Representative Carolyn ­Partridge, a Windham Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, said she supports the legalization of hemp.

‘‘I think all we’re up against is that the DEA feels this is a dangerous crop, which we’ve discovered as a committee it just is not,’’ she said.

Hemp is widely praised for its multiple uses as a heating ­fuel, provider of fabric for cloth and rope, construction material, paint, and other purposes. It can grow well in Vermont’s climate, said Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design, a farm specializing in test crops and public education about agriculture.

With the current federal ban on hemp, ‘‘we’re tossing that agri­cultural option out the window,’’ he told the committee.

Vermont passed a law in 2008 that called on the state Agency of Agriculture to begin issuing hemp growing permits to farmers, seeking them as soon as the federal government lifted its prohibition on the crop.

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