VILNIUS - Members of the Lithuanian government are drafting a bill to legalize the growth of industrial hemp. The plant is not psychoactive and would be used to create fibers and other materials.
The plants are permitted in the European Union, but some are worried that these laws could create difficulties for narcotics enforcement.
Alvirdas Basulis, head of the Rural Development Division of the department of agriculture, said that industrial hemp and the psychoactive strain are very similar in appearance. "People are afraid because when looking at the plant, it is hard to tell the difference. You need to do some chemical tests," Basulis said.
Certain interest groups, uncertain about growing regulations, have condemned the law before it is passed. Jurgis Gediminas Jakobcionis is chairman of Parents Against Drugs. "Our organization is resolutely against this law," Jakobcionis said. "People are already growing it in illegal conditions," he added.
Legalization of hemp, which contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, will be carried out under EU requirements, the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas reported.
Basulis said that hemp offers farmers a new option for crops. He tried to quell fears that people could easily get their hands on narcotics. "This plant is grown for fiber, not for drugs. This has a very low level of the narcotic chemical, maybe 0.02 percent 's this makes it useless for drugs," Basulis said.
The law is under consideration for the second time. The first draft law was returned to the cabinet for improvement in 2007.
Adopted by the European Commission four years ago, the regulation of hemp cultivation is mandatory in all EU member states. The plants have already been made legal in Poland, Latvia and Estonia. Hemp is grown in the majority of EU countries.
Jakobcionis says that strong drug laws have more benefits than drawbacks. "We must fight by all means any dangerous drug. In Sweden a restrictive policy gave very positive results. Also in the U.S.A. 's we have friends around the world who report to us," Jakobcionis said.
There have not been problems in Estonia, however, where hemp is legal. There, farming is underway and seeds are being grown for sale. One ton of seeds from Estonia sells for 7000 kroons (447 euros). Organically grown seeds cost 10,000 kroons (640 euros) per ton.
Oil extracted from hemp seeds is used in food, as well as in the production of biofuels, glue, polish, paint and soap. The plants are also used in the production of ecologically sound plastic and paper. It can be processed like flax to create fiber used for weaving, ropes and fishing nets. Hemp products are also used in construction.
The Ministry of Agriculture refused to comment until more considerations had been made for the bill.