Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Butte County's marijuana battle inflamed by taking of newborn

One of California's more vociferous battles over marijuana was already simmering in the upper Central Valley when an audio recording of a howling mother went viral.

"Oh, my God! My baby! My baby! My baby!" screamed Daisy Bram, 30, as Butte County child welfare officers took custody of her newborn infant and 18-month-old toddler during a Sept. 29 marijuana raid on her family's rural house outside Oroville.

On June 11, six days after Butte County voters decide a controversial ballot challenge to restrictions on marijuana growing, Bram faces a preliminary hearing on charges of felony child abuse and misdemeanor child endangerment.

Her defenders say Bram is essentially being prosecuted for breast-feeding while using medical marijuana. They say her case dramatizes what they contend are heavy-handed policies for medical marijuana use in Butte County, where supervisors put restrictions on growing medical pot, and police and an aggressive district attorney shuttered all local marijuana dispensaries.

"The general populace is in an uproar over this," said Robert Galia, a partner in a Chico-area dispensary that closed in 2011, a year after being raided by police. "This whole thing that she endangered her kids is just a farce."

Los Angeles lawyer Michael Feinsohn, who is representing Bram free of charge, said her case and the audio that's drawing audiences from Israel to Thailand "have really garnered support and made this a righteous cause."

Bram's case is being prosecuted as Butte County residents prepare to vote next week on a measure to ban medical marijuana cultivation on properties of one-half acre or less and limit the number of plants on larger parcels. Angry marijuana advocates gathered more than 12,000 signatures to force a vote on the issue after supervisors approved the growing restrictions last year.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey makes no apologies for his contention that many people in the county are exploiting the cover of medical marijuana to illegally deal pot. Ramsey said his prosecution of Bram is consistent with his office's mission to protect drug-endangered children -- in this case from a home strewn with marijuana buds being harvested.

"The officers are saying that this was a place that was obviously endangering the health of these children," Ramsey said. "A mother is obviously not protecting the children from this commercial (pot-growing) operation."

Bram and her husband, Jayme Walsh, were charged with felony marijuana possession and possession for sale after officers raided their 38-plant garden and seized another 56 plants from inside their home, authorities said.

After a preliminary hearing last November, Butte Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Howell upheld the drug charges but threw out counts of felony child abuse against both parents.

Ramsey, who said the child endangerment charges were dismissed because some of his witnesses weren't available, refiled them against the mother.

Following the September raid, Bram's children were put in foster care. In her campaign to get them back, she posted an online photo of herself breast-feeding the children, toddler Thor and baby Zeus. At the time of the raid, the toddler was 18 months and the baby 28 days old.

In the police audio recording, obtained by her husband in court discovery, an officer speaks in an understated voice trying calm her. Bram shrieks: "They took my baby! How is he going to eat? ... He's a newborn!"

Bram said she got her children back four months later, after she gave up pot for the prescription drug Marinol, which uses synthetic ingredients to mimic the properties of marijuana.

She maintains she is being prosecuted for two reasons: She was using medical marijuana and breast-feeding her kids. Bram said she consumed pot to help with an injured hand and that her husband used it to relieve stress; they possessed the plants for personal use, she said, not sale.

"It defies logic if you think of a mother consuming cannabis and breast-feeding facing a child abuse charge," Bram said.

Ramsey said the case is about a dangerous drug environment, not breast-feeding. He said tests on hair samples from the toddler, Thor, revealed traces of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive element in pot. The baby had insufficient hair to test, he said.

Dr. Angela Rosas, chief of pediatrics at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento and a specialist in drug-endangered children, said it is common for marijuana to concentrate in breast milk.

She said mothers are urged not to use pot while nursing but that studies conflict on whether THC in breast milk is harmful. "We don't have any newborns coming in with marijuana intoxication," she said.

Rosas said she has, however, treated toddlers who were comatose after eating marijuana. She said they recovered in a day or two.

Josh Cook, a spokesman for the community group Butte Concerned Neighbors, said he had not heard of Bram's child-endangerment case. He was puzzled to learn of the saga as residents prepare to vote on Measure A to uphold or overturn local pot-growing limits.

"Some of my friends live in residential areas where neighbors are growing 50 plants in their backyards -- it stinks so bad," Cook said. "I don't know about all the other dramas about medical marijuana ... How these issues become a freak show is beyond me."

Daniel Levine, spokesman for Citizens for Compassionate Use, which protests the growing restrictions and dispensary ban, said the local cannabis cause got an unlikely heroine in Daisy Bram and her wails over losing her children in a pot raid.

"It pulls the heartstrings," Levine said.


(c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Smoking Cannabis May Reduce Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis Patients

By (@mikaelaconley)

Smoking marijuana may reduce certain symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis, according to a new small study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine conducted a double blind, controlled clinical trial that included 30 participants who had multiple sclerosis. The scientists hoped to understand whether smoked cannabis reduces symptoms of spasticity, a common symptom of the disease that refers to stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms.

While most past trials have focused on the effects of a pill-form of cannabis, researchers wanted to see specifically whether a smoked form of the drug has a beneficial effect.

"Smoking cannabis was indeed superior to the placebo in reducing spasticity and pain, but that certainly came at a price," said Dr. Judy Corey-Bloom, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego and lead author of the study.

Patients experienced less pain after smoking, but also experienced fatigue, impairment of cognitive function, attention and concentration.

"There can be a lot of sources of pain with MS, from that pins and needles and burning feeling, but also the pain from muscle stiffness," said Corey-Bloom. "It's important for patients to know that pain can be treatable."

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the myelin sheath, a protective covering that surrounds nerve cells, and approximately 400,000 Americans have MS, according to the National MS Society. About 200 people are newly diagnosed each week. The disease is degenerative, and symptoms, which affect the muscles, bowel function, vision, numbness, sexual function and personality, can vary and range in severity.

"The effect of the drop in spasticity [in the study] is real and important," Dr. John Corboy, professor of neurology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, wrote in an email. "So, problem is, who can use this, as marijuana makes 100 percent of people stoned at the dose needed to produce the effect. Authors allude to this in the last part of the abstract (i.e. can you find a dose that works but doesn't impair you?). My answer is, I doubt it."

The trick would be to identify and isolate the key cannabinoids in the marijuana that show benefits and find a way to concentrate and deliver them, said Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of healthcare delivery and policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "This would solve the problem without creating other problems."

Researchers examined physical performance (using a timed walk), cognitive function and measured pain levels in the patients by using a modified Ashford scale. The scale grades the intensity of muscle tone by measuring resistant of range of motion and rigidity.

"Patients saw an average of about a 30 percent pain reduction after smoking the cannabis," said Corey-Bloom.

But it's important to note that several patients in the study had a history of marijuana use, which could "create a bias in the sample," said LaRocca.

Nevertheless, LaRocca said the researchers did a thorough job in conducting the study and "the bottom line is that further investigation of cannabis is warranted in considering its possible usefulness for spasticity in MS."

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Medical marijuana brings relief for sick kids in Michigan but the treatment is controversial

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Source:Detroit Free Press

Rebecca Brown, 48, gives her son Cooper, 14, medical marijuana to control seizures.

LANSING -- Rebecca Brown says she tried every prescription drug she could find to control the frequent seizures her son suffered because of a severe form of epilepsy.

When nothing worked consistently, and the drugs and special diet caused kidney stones and pancreas problems as side effects, the Oakland County woman turned to medical marijuana.

Now, Cooper Brown, 14, is one of 44 Michigan residents younger than 18 with a medical marijuana card. His mom says his seizures have dropped off dramatically since he started using it early this year.

But the treatment is controversial. Marijuana -- medical or otherwise -- is illegal at the federal level and some doctors say it shouldn't be used by adults, let alone children. A lack of clinical studies means there is uncertainty about its effects on developing brains and nervous systems.

Though still in middle school, Cooper is not the youngest child on the state's medical marijuana registry. A 7-year-old, two 9-year-olds, an 11-year-old, and a 13-year-old can also legally possess and consume medical pot in Michigan.

State officials won't disclose the children's medical conditions. They say they don't know whether the kids smoke the drug or take it some other way, such as in a baked good, a liquid extract called a tincture, or by using a vaporizer.

Parents say they've successfully used medical cannabis to treat their kids for Dravet Syndrome, which Cooper has, as well as autism, attention deficit disorder, muscular dystrophy, and the pain and nausea of cancer, among other ailments.

Brown said she would never let Cooper smoke marijuana. Instead, he eats it in food she prepares for him.

Brown would not identify her supplier but said she searches out cannabis that laboratory tests show is low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound which provides the marijuana high, but with elevated levels of a lesser-known compound, CBD (cannabidiol), which has antiseizure properties.

Brown said in an interview with the Free Press that she might face criticism for going public but hopes she can help even one family lessen the stress and suffering that she and her family have endured.

"This isn't something we entered into lightly," Brown said. "I've done a lot of reading and a lot of research. I have everything tested.

"I am not a pot smoker and never in a million years thought of trying this," she said. "But when your child is suffering and you feel desperate, you consider things you may not have before.

"Parents, when their kids are healthy, they take it for granted."

Doctors' permission

Brown first had to convince her skeptical husband. Because Cooper is younger than 18, Michigan law required her to get not one, but two doctors -- Cooper's pediatrician and his neurologist -- to sign off on him using it.

Like Michigan, most states that have legalized medical marijuana don't require users to be at least 18. Only Delaware, and now Connecticut, which this month became the 17th state to legalize it, have such a requirement, said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Tom George, a practicing physician and former Republican state senator from Kalamazoo who voted against Michigan legalizing medical marijuana in 2008, said there are no absolutes in medicine but an effective prescription treatment is almost always preferable to herbal marijuana.

Michigan, which has more than 130,000 adults on its medical marijuana registry, should amend its law so the drug can be used only for a limited number of specific conditions -- not any time a doctor gives the OK -- he said.

George, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2010, said his concerns are heightened when it comes to use by children, though he's not sure that should be banned.

"I don't think we know in growing nervous systems what effects it might have," George said.

In the case of the Brown family, "I like the fact that he's not smoking it," and "it sounds like she's done her homework," George said.

"It's hard to know what to say based on anecdotal cases."

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't have a policy on medical cannabis, though it's working on developing one, officials said.

Nearly three-quarters of Michigan medical marijuana users who are minors are either 16 or 17 years old. Similar high school-age concentrations of underage users in other states have prompted concerns about students using medical marijuana cards to supply the drug not just to themselves, but to their friends.

It's a worry even for some proponents of medical pot, such as the Eugene, Ore., man who writes the Weed Blog under the pen name Johnny Green.

"I think it's kind of unusual that in a part of the country where there's a high prevalence of abuse of the program, there's also a high prevalence of teenagers getting their medical marijuana cards," Green said, in reference to Oregon.

Green, 31, who would not give his real name and said he uses medical cannabis to treat his tendinitis, said minors should face stricter controls than adults in getting medical marijuana cards. He said he likes the fact that Michigan, unlike Oregon and most other states, requires not one, but two doctors' signatures.

Farmington Hills attorney Robert Mullen, spokesman for the Michigan chapter of the National Patients Rights Association, which favors testing requirements and improved controls over medical marijuana, said he also favors Michigan's two-doctor requirement.

Long-term effects

As for concerns about the long-term effects of medical cannabis on young patients, "there's a cost-benefit analysis to any form of treatment," Mullen said.

Prescription drugs also can have long-term adverse effects, and "here's someone who's run the full gamut of Western medicine and it's not working, so she's trying something that's an organic treatment," he said.

Though Cooper is small for his age and is in a special education class when he attends school, he is at the high end of the spectrum for youngsters with Dravet Syndrome. He likes to play video games, cook and hang out with friends, and he has verbal skills that many with the same condition lack.

Rebecca Brown said she decided to try medical cannabis for her son after she saw a YouTube video about Jason David of Modesto, Calif., who said he believes the drug saved the life of his son Jayden, 5, who also has Dravet Syndrome and only recently began speaking a few words.

"My son had a seizure every day of his life," David said in a telephone interview. "He was crying in pain every day." Since he started giving the boy an oral tincture of high-CBD cannabis, "he's been doing amazing," and "now he can go a week without having one and when he does, it's not nearly as severe."

Brown said she takes Cooper's medical cannabis to Iron Labs LLC in Walled Lake where it's tested not just for CBD content but for herbicides and other harmful impurities.

She said she's concerned about continuity of supply because high-CBD cannabis was hard to find in Michigan and it would be illegal for her to import it from another state.

"One day a few weeks ago I didn't give him any medicine and that day he had five seizures," said Brown, who uses Facebook to reach out to other moms with sick kids.

"To me, it's not a drug issue, it's a compassion issue," Brown said.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or

More Details: Medical cannabis cards for kids

Patients younger than 18 can get medical marijuana cards in Michigan, but they face special requirements in addition to the $100 application fee.

• The minor's legal guardian must sign off on the application.

• Adults require a doctor's certification; minors must have certifications from two doctors.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

New Jersey, U.S.A - lawmakers take action on marijuana possession

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The Assembly amended a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana to also require $50 of all fines collected to fund drug education programs.

People caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana would be subject to a $150 fine for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation, under the bill (A1465) the Assembly was expected to approve yesterday.

 But its sponsor, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, (D-Mercer), said based on the testimony during a hearing on the bill Monday, he wanted to make some of the suggested changes. The amended bill will get a full Assembly vote at the next voting session, he said.

The changed bill also included a provision allowing judges to order a drug evaluation for an offender arrested a third time for possession of pot, according to a statement Gusciora issued.

"I am confident that with these amendments we will have a model decriminalization bill that realistically addresses persons charged with possession of marijuana," he said. "Unfortunately under current penalties, the punishment does not fit the crime."



Arizona considering new uses for medical marijuana

— Arizona is considering requests to expand its fledgling medical marijuana program to allow use of the drug for an array of conditions, including post-traumatic stress syndrome and migraines, beyond those allowed under the law approved by voters two years ago.

The Department of Health Services, which is required under the 2010 law to consider requests to expand coverage, holds a public hearing Friday on the first batch of requests.

Besides PTSD and migraines, the requests for covered conditions include depression and general anxiety disorder. The law already permits medical marijuana use for such medical reasons as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, chronic pain, muscle spasms and hepatitis C.

Even as the state considers expanding the program, it is still implementing a key part of the law.

Friday is the deadline to submit applications to operate medical marijuana dispensaries. Up to 126 dispensaries will be permitted statewide, but only one per designated area. Those typically are either rural towns or parts of metropolitan areas.

The process of awarding licenses to dispensaries that will sell marijuana to users was delayed by Gov. Jan Brewer’s reluctance to implement that part of the law.

The state has awarded medical marijuana user cards to more than 28,000 people. Chronic pain is the most common medical condition, though users can have more than one. Most of the users also got permission to grow marijuana until there is a dispensary in their area.

Arizona is among 17 states that have enacted laws allowing medical marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States’ programs vary, and some already cover the additional medical conditions being considered by Arizona. For example, New Mexico allows medical marijuana use for PTSD, while California’s covered “serious medical conditions” include migraines. Meanwhile, Colorado’s decade-old program has denied petitions to add more than a dozen conditions, including PTSD, hepatitis C and depression.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Veterans Affairs Department in 2011 issued guidelines that permit patients treated at VA hospitals and clinics to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The guidelines don’t allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana.

Consideration of possible expansion of Arizona’s medical marijuana program follows efforts by the state to crack down on early abuses.

State medical regulatory boards already have disciplined doctors for failing to adequately consider patients’ needs and conditions before recommending medical marijuana.

The state Medical Board in February reprimanded one physician who wrote certifications for 483 patients without making required checks of a controlled-substance database.

The Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board suspended another doctor’s license for failing to adequately examine patients and document their conditions before certifying them for medical marijuana.

In advance of Friday’s hearing, Health Services Director Will Humble said he is most interested in peer-reviewed scientific studies, not personal testimony.

“To me, it’s really about presenting good science,” Humble said. “To me, that’s the compelling information that we need.”

Humble’s department has contracted with the University of Arizona to identify research relevant to the requests for expanded coverage. “I’m not aware of very much published literature to support adding those,” he said.

Humble said he feels a need to be cautious about adding conditions because he doesn’t want patients to forego traditional medical treatment to opt for questionable benefits from marijuana.

And he said Arizona’s law doesn’t allow the agency to remove a condition once it’s listed, so it would be troubling if scientifically reliable information later surfaces that undermines the value of approving medical marijuana for a particular condition.

Brewer last year balked at allowing dispensaries, saying she feared state employees could face federal criminal prosecution. She later acquiesced after a judge ruled the state had no discretion implementing the dispensary portion of the law.

The state already had received about 200 dispensary applications through close-of-business Wednesday, and Humble said he expected many more before Friday’s deadline.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

US Senate makes bath salts, synthetic marijuana illegal


U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer announced that the Senate passed a bill that would make synthetic marijuana and the chemical compounds found in bath salts illegal in the United States.

It was passed as part of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.

“Let this be a warning to those who make a profit manufacturing and selling killer chemical components to our teens and children: the jig is up,” Schumer said. “This bill closes loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensures that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly synthetic drugs.”

Schumer’s bill would take the chemicals the DEA has identified within synthetic marijuana products and place them as Schedule I narcotics with other deadly drugs like heroin and LSD.

It would close loopholes that have made the spread of synthetic marijuana almost impossible to stop because manufacturers tweak the chemical compounds to create products that are not technically covered under existing bans.

The legislation casts a wide net over existing synthetic marijuana products and other possible chemical combinations, ensuring that simple chemistry could not result in new products that fall outside of existing bans.

In addition to banning synthetic marijuana, Schumer’s legislation also bans active ingredients in bath salts, which have been sold online, convenience stores and in smoke shops under names like Tranquility, Zoom, Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky.

According to numerous reports, the chemicals found in these bath salts and plant foods cause effects similar to those caused by cocaine and Methamphetamines, including hallucinations, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.

Locally, several municipalities already have made these drugs illegal and have charged area store owners.

GPS Use Illegal in Kentucky Drug Bust


By BRETT BARROUQUERE Associated Press 

LOUISVILLE, Ky - When Kentucky State Troopers stopped 49-year-old Robert Dale Lee on Interstate 75 in September 2011, they knew he would be coming their way and what to look for in his truck.

The Drug Enforcement Administration had been following Lee's truck from Chicago using a GPS — a tracking device placed on the vehicle as part of a multi-state drug probe — and troopers found 150 pounds of marijuana in the vehicle.

Now, a federal judge has ruled the stash inadmissible in the case against Lee because the DEA and troopers didn't have a warrant to place the device on the truck.

"In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee," Thapar wrote. "Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee's car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up."

Lee is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. No trial date has been set. He remains in federal custody at the Laurel County Detention Center.

Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Lexington, said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and evaluating whether to appeal Thapar's decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down law enforcement's use of GPS tracking in investigations without a warrant. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-member majority that it was the attachment of the device that violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. That case involved a GPS placed on the Jeep of suspected Washington, D.C., drug kingpin Antoine Jones. The ruling overturned Jones' conviction and life sentence.

Lee's attorney, Michael Murphy of Lexington, said the only evidence against Lee was the marijuana found in the truck. Murphy said he based his argument in part on the Jones case.

"If they are going to be that intrusive on our lives, they should do it under the supervision of a court," said Murphy, a former federal prosecutor.

Lee's case predated that ruling, so the admissibility of the marijuana remained in question until Thapar's decision.
The case arose after a cooperating witness told investigators that Lee, who previously served 42 months in federal prison for gun and drug convictions, had been buying marijuana in Chicago and bringing it back to eastern Kentucky in his truck.

DEA Task Force Officer Brian Metzger placed the GPS tracking device on Lee's truck on Sept. 2, 2011, while Lee met with a federal probation officer in London, Ky. No judge had authorized the use of the device.

Thapar noted that three days later, DEA agents noticed that Lee went to Chicago and tracked him as he returned to Kentucky. Metzger contacted Trooper Matt Hutti, gave him a description of Lee's truck and told him "it probably contained marijuana" and that the trooper "would have to obtain his own PC, probable cause, for a traffic stop," Thapar wrote.

DEA agents stayed in touch with Hutti, who stationed himself along I-75 near Mount Vernon with a drug-sniffing dog. After spotting Lee driving without a seat belt, Hutti pulled the truck over and got consent for a search.
Inside, Thapar wrote, Hutti, another trooper and the dog found 150 pounds of marijuana. After the dogs found the stash, Lee confessed — a "direct result of the traffic stop and search," Thapur wrote.

But, Thapar wrote, the DEA didn't rely on any binding court precedent in executing the search. Neither the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals nor the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the issue of GPS surveillance when the agent placed the tracking device on Lee's truck.

"Without GPS tracking data, the DEA agents would not have known that Lee traveled to Chicago (his source for drugs), that he was returning to Kentucky along I-75, or his exact position," Thapur wrote.

Murphy said given Lee's criminal record, a conviction in this case would have meant at least 20 years in federal prison.

"Unfortunately, my client will have to spend at least another month in custody," Murphy said. "But, this turned out good for him."
Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter:

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PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: Hemp is one of the oldest crops known to humankind.

And some historians believe the need for material to make ropes and sails for the Royal Navy was the real reason behind the establishment of Australia as a penal colony more than two centuries ago.

Now hemp is making a comeback of sorts, with licensed production in most states supplying growing markets in masonry, fibreglass replacements and textiles. But a push to legalise foods made from hemp seeds could be the key to Australia's hemp industry taking off.

SEAN MURPHY, REPORTER: At Ashford in the New England region of New South Wales they used to grow tobacco on the verdant plains of the Severn River but now farmers like Leon Minos are growing industrial hemp.

LEON MINOS, HEMP GROWER, PONDA: Traditionally my grandparents and parents grew tobacco here, and that was predominantly tobacco. And then the tobacco industry folded and yeah, we're just looking at another industry to get up and running and hopefully be good for the Ashford area.

SEAN MURPHY: With his wife Connie, they're growing about six hectares of hemp under licence, providing hurd for a growing market in masonry material for building.

CONNIE MINOS, HELP GROWER, PONDA: We really like the crop. It's something that's been a really interesting industry, I guess, for to us get involved in over the last three years. We've learnt a lot about it in that time and I guess we're always impressed with just how diverse the product can be, and it's something that we're hoping really does take off.

As far as the farming side of it goes, we find that because we've previously just grown lucerne here, that it's less time consuming, it uses a lot less water - so there's a lot of benefits for that side of it as well.

SEAN MURPHY: Even if it needs irrigation, hemp uses about a third of the water needed to grow lucerne and its low cost benefits extend well beyond water savings.

(Sean Murphy in front of tall fronded hemp crop)

This crop was planted about 90 days ago. It's about 4m tall and is ready for harvest now.

It's planted in beautiful alluvial soil and there used to be free range pigs running in this paddock. But other than that there have been no inputs at all - no fertiliser, no pesticides, no herbicides, no fungicides, not even irrigation, just sunshine and rain.

SEAN MURPHY: And the returns are attractive too. Industry advocates reckon a crop like this could fetch about $1,500 a tonne when its raw material is separated.

KLARA MAROSSEZKY, AUSTRALIAN HEMP MASONRY COMPANY: So the farmer is getting $500 for their hurd, $500 for their fines and then additionally they can get $500 for the short bast.

And the short bast is something that can be fed into the fibreglass industry very readily - so its major market is in Europe is in the automobile industry.

(Klara Marossezky starts hemp processing machine)

SEAN MURPHY: Klara Marossezky is a sustainability educator. She runs the Australian Hemp Masonry Company and has developed an award winning formula for converting hemp hurd into a carbon sequestering building material.

KLARA MAROSSEZKY: This is actually a carbon sink. So it's harvested carbon out of the air in the field, that's been chopped up and it's being put into this lime-based material and then locked up in that. So it's literally carbon locked into a wall.

SEAN MURPHY: Once the material sets it undergoes carbonisation or petrification and continues to soak up carbon.

KLARA MAROSSEZKY: When we talk about Australia not being ready for a low carbon future, we are actually ideally poised for a low carbon future. This is probably one of the most powerful resources that we have to us and one of the most powerful tools we have for addressing carbon.

And so we've got this equation. We've got you know, huge impact from just- If I only talk about the building sector, 40 per cent of our carbon footprint in Australia from building. If we replace that, that's something that's immediately being addressed.

SEAN MURPHY: This prototype building is at Mountain View near Nimbin in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. It's cheap, easy to build and has high thermal qualities and energy efficiency.

LIZ JOHNSON (working on building): Just coming home and smelling the beginnings is great, makes you feel like you're doing something for Mother Nature.

SEAN MURPHY: Aboriginal community Elder Liz Johnson says it's a perfect fit for remote Aboriginal communities.

LIZ JOHNSON, ABORIGINAL ELDER: I've searched a long time for what I think is a culturally appropriate building material for Aboriginal people. Since the change of cultures in our country, Aboriginal people have been imposed upon so far as building is concerned. And traditionally we lived in healthy living conditions.

And all my life I've built houses out of different things. I've lived in different houses, and I've seen the health of Aboriginal people deteriorate with the houses that are built specially for public housing.

So I'm hoping that with our venture into the hemp housing, that we will be able to influence regional governments and eventually the Federal Government with a prototype of this sort of house.

SEAN MURPHY: Hemp is one of the oldest and most versatile crops in existence and was the world's most ubiquitous textile fibre before the invention of the cotton gin in the American South in the 19th century.

It's still grown for fabric making but until now, the process of separating the bast fibre from the stem has been expensive and burdened by archaic technology.

ADRIAN CLARKE, TEXTILE AND COMPOSITE INDUSTRIES: You cannot do anything with hemp until you have separated the hurd from the fibre. The fibre is in the bark on the outside. The hurd is the woody pith in the middle.

SEAN MURPHY: Victorian inventor Adrian Clarke is working on a decortication machine which can process hemp in a field.

It produces material that can be adapted to existing cotton spinning technology and Mr Clarke says its potential is revolutionary.

ADRIAN CLARKE: Our method theoretically, you could cut it today and be spinning it tomorrow - and we recover over 90 per cent of the fibre. But we do it in a way that will spin in cotton machinery.

They're making advances with cotton spinning machinery every day. Billions of dollars gets spent on improving the cotton spinning - so we link into the most modern technology out of the oldest technology. We bring more fibre per hectare and we bring a better fibre.

And it's not stained, it can be spun and dyed just like cotton. And most of the goods you will see around in the hemp shops is actually a blend of cotton and hemp, so it gets the benefit of both.

VOICEOVER: This particular machine is just a prototype but its Australian inventor thinks it could revolutionise textile production throughout the world.

REPORTER: It will be a drivable machine?

ADRIAN CLARKE: It will be a drivable machine that harvests and what comes out the back will be ready to go straight into a cotton system.

SEAN MURPHY: The BBC showed interest in Adrian Clarke's invention after he moved to England 12 years ago when licensed hemp production was stopped in Victoria.

Now that it's resumed, he's returned to Australia with a refined device that can fit onto a tractor.

ADRIAN CLARKE: We have developed a decorticator that is very small and very efficient, and it was actually designed to go inside a harvester so that the harvester immediately feeds it into the decorticator and separates the fibre from the hurd as it's going through.

SEAN MURPHY: He's now seeking investors but says the biggest boost to Australia's fledgling hemp industry would be to follow the lead of countries like Britain, Canada and the United States and legalise hemp food.

ADRIAN CLARKE: To deny Australians the right to eat these very healthy foods and use the oil is just quite ridiculous. I can go into Sainsburys or Tesco in London and buy hemp spaghetti, hemp salad dressing, hemp ice cream, hemp soaps.

The foods are just there. Hemp breads, it's all just there. And you can't buy it here. You can't consume it here.

SEAN MURPHY: Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has recently recommended that hemp seed foods be made legal in Australia and this is now being considered by a ministerial council.

It comes a decade after a similar recommendation was rejected.

SEAN MURPHY: Food Standards Australia and New Zealand found there would be no public health and safety concerns with hemp as a food product.

New Zealand accepted the advice but the Howard Government rejected it. It said legalising hemp as a food would send mixed messages about drug abuse and it would be difficult for law enforcement agencies to police.

Now police agencies across Australia are objecting on the grounds that hemp food could corrupt roadside drug testing. And the New South Wales Government says it might also encourage cannabis consumption, which is already the highest in the world.

ANDREW KAVASILAS, HEMP GROWER: They talk about undermining efforts made to eradicate cannabis, it will send the wrong messages to people about the safe use of cannabis.

But those arguments aren't getting anywhere overseas. Overseas we're looking at markets that are just expanding tenfold.

You could smoke an ounce of this and still walk home- still drive home, yeah! (laughs)

SEAN MURPHY: Andrew Kavasilas is one of 34 licensed hemp growers in New South Wales. He is specialising in hemp seed production.

He says there's no THC in hemp seeds and he believes fair trade laws will eventually open the hemp food market up in Australia.

ANDREW KAVASILAS: They probably won't get up this time. I think what will happen is something like what happened in the US and Canada, where there will be a trade issue, there will probably be a court case, and the truth in fact will come out about the nutritional benefits of hemp seed and the government will have no option but to facilitate the introduction of hemp seed food in Australia.

That's the seed, Stewart.

STEWART LARSSON, MARA SEEDS: What sort of germinations do you look at?

ANDREW KAVASILAS: Eighty per cent, 90 per cent plus, generally. Sometimes fresh enough, it will go 100 per cent.

SEAN MURPHY: Stewart Larsson is Australia's biggest organic soy bean producer, processing about 7,000 tonnes a year.

At his new stockfeed and biochar facility at Mallanganee in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Mr Larsson has been working with local hemp growers. He believes there's huge potential for broadacre hemp seed production, if the Government legalises hemp foods.

STEWART LARSSON: We can't take it any further until basically that happens. I mean, we can do the trial areas and the growing of the crop and even the methodology of how we do that. But we need that tick for it to happen.

If we look at what the world says we're going to have a food shortage in years to come.

I mean, it's a crop we can grow well here, it appears, and it's suited to this environment as well. And I guess our interest is in taking it to a commercial crop, in that using standard equipment that we're using now in growing soy and also to be a rotation with soy - in soy being a nitrogen crop and the end level for growing food grade hemp is certainly a plus.

SEAN MURPHY: Even on a small scale like this, the economics of hemp seed are impressive. Andrew Kavasilas says a one hectare crop will yield about 1.5 tonnes of seed worth up to $6,000.

ANDREW KAVASILAS: Well, that's what keeps my enthusiasm up, because it is a high potential plant. As a broad acre crop, it integrates well into what farmers are doing anyway.

And when you're growing a crop that in effect can produce oil at the same quality as fish oil, in terms of its omega ratios, yeah, why wouldn't you be going for it?

I think what happens, is people haven't got a grasp of the full facts, and politically I don't think there's any votes for any politician to say that our kids should be eating hemp foods.

SEAN MURPHY: At Ashford, Connie Minos is hoping to integrate her fat lamb production with hemp growing but under her current licence conditions this is forbidden.

CONNIE MINOS: We're personally interested in being able to use it as fodder for stock because we grow lucerne and hemp here. Hemp being so high in protein, we're interested in being able to combine the two and make pellets and chaff available for the stock. And we believe that they'll do very well on that, the fat lambs we've got at the moment.

We're really keen to try that but we can't do that until the Government basically approves the use of hemp as a human consumption, which has been approved in many other parts around the world.

SEAN MURPHY: Hemp growers are strictly monitored and their crops are tested regularly to ensure they have low THC levels but growers say there's an imbalance between compliance and technical advice and support.

ANDREW KAVASILAS: For instance in New South Wales the hemp issue is being handled by Invasive Species Department of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

That's a department that's in the business of eradicating plants not fostering an industry to catch on to what the rest of the world is doing.

In compliance and regulation, yeah, they'll be out there, they'll be testing your plants, they'll tell you what you can't do - but in terms of any support to make representations to the minister, it's just not there.

SEAN MURPHY: The New South Wales Government says it's planning a round table meeting with the hemp industry's major players in the coming months to formulate a strategic plant.

Leon Minos says it's the kind of support that could create a thriving local industry and see Ashford prosper again as it did during the heyday of the tobacco industry.

LEON MINOS: Obviously we need to promote it in the area and get the community on board and allow the farmers to be able to have enough crops and that growing to cater for the market. And eventually get a processing plant of some sort in Ashford so we can create some employment for the future, and for the town, and sort of turn things around.

We've lost a lot of industry, lost the coal mine and the power station, tobacco industry - so it's basically a retirement village. Old people are good but we need some young people too.

And we'll need to be able to keep them around if they have the will to stay.


Hemp Food
Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking.

Hemp-seed is usually very safe for those unable to tolerate nuts, gluten, lactose, and sugar.

In fact, there are no known allergies to hemp foods.

Hemp-seed contains no gluten and therefore would not trigger symptoms of celiac disease

The fresh leaves can also be eaten in salads. Products include cereals, frozen waffles, hemp tofu, and nut butters.

A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized by law in the United States, where they import it from China and Canada), dehulled hemp seed (outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder.

Hemp is also used in some organic cereals, for non-dairy milk somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, and for non-dairy hemp "ice cream."

44% of the weight of hemp-seed is healthy oils.

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