NORML touts hemp biodiesel Fuel latest strategy in legalization fight. By STEVE FRIEDMAN of the Tribune’s staff Story ran on Saturday, September 08 2001 It looks like refined pond algae. The bright green liquid that emits a nutty smell resembles a brightly colored sports drink more than a fuel additive. Enter the next highly touted use for industrial hemp: biodiesel. Supporters are bringing their message to Columbia this weekend about the benefits of burning hemp-based fuel in diesel engines. With her tan 1984 Volkswagen Quantum nearby, Terri Zeman yesterday afternoon triumphantly held up a plastic container with liquid hemp inside. Zeman, secretary of the St. Louis region’s chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, gave a rapid-fire presentation about the environmentally friendly qualities of hemp biodiesel. "We’re closer than we have ever been in changing laws because more people are finding out the practical qualities hemp has," she said. Terri Zeman, secretary of the St. Louis regional chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, displays a biodiesel fuel made with oil from the seeds of industrial hemp grown in Canada. Zeman’s Volkswagen burns the fuel. Ed Pfueller photo Hemp use for products such as clothes, ship sails and ropes has a history dating back more than 2,500 years. Hemp was also a well-used textile product in the formative years of the United States, but it fell out of favor as a raw material when the nation banned marijuana production in the 1930s. It’s legal to own products made from industrial hemp in the United States, but it’s not legal to grow the crop. Zeman’s hemp oil, for example, was processed in a plant in Ohio from seeds grown in Canada. Industrial hemp legalization has largely met with opposition at the federal and state levels in recent years, even though the plant is a non-hallucinogenic cousin to marijuana. In the final weeks of his administration, President Bill Clinton maintained the federal government’s ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp. Only one state, Hawaii, allows a test plot for hemp production, but it hasn’t permitted full-scale production. Hemp bills before Missouri lawmakers in recent years have drawn intense opposition from the state’s largest law enforcement agency, the Missouri Highway Patrol. The patrol opposes legalization mainly because marijuana and industrial hemp plants look nearly identical. "We believe the few people actually growing hemp for legitimate purposes would be over-saddled by people growing marijuana," said Capt. Chris Ricks, patrol spokesman. "Our position still is that the problems created by legalizing hemp far outweigh the economics it would create. We believe that hemp is not a viable product." If industrial hemp were legal, hemp-based biodiesel could get support from the biodiesel industry, said Jenna Higgins, spokeswoman for the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City. But the organization is not depending on hemp to be a large-scale contributor to biodiesel production. "We’re glad this group is out there creating awareness, but hemp-based biodiesel now is really just a novelty, while biodiesel itself isn’t a novelty," Higgins said. Biodiesel production nationwide has increased from 5 million to 20 million gallons within the past fiscal year. About 90 percent of the biodiesel in the United States is made from soybeans; the other 10 percent comes from recycled restaurant grease. Biodiesel’s clean-burning properties have attracted 100 major bus fleets nationwide, including BiState in St. Louis, Higgins said. A 1998 federal study found biodiesel reduces carbon-dioxide emissions by 78 percent compared to standard petroleum diesel. Hemp supporters plan to display two hemp biodiesel cars outside The Blue Note tonight during a benefit concert sponsored by the University of Missouri-Columbia’s chapter of NORML and the Missouri Cannabis Coalition.
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