North Dakota, which has one of the most diversified crop bases in the nation, will further diversify this spring with the introduction of an industrial hemp crop on small acreages managed by five growers. It’s a first for the state, and it’s historic in that growing hemp, a cousin of marijuana, has been illegal since 1970. Hemp does not contain the levels of THC (the psychoactive compound) of its famous and notorious cousin, but it does have properties that can make it a viable, profitable crop in North Dakota and other states.

The pilot program underway this spring is being strictly policed, so much so that seed entering the country from Canada will be escorted to farms by the N.D. Highway Patrol. While that seems like an overreaction, sensitivity about marijuana taints hemp, even as the hemp plant is not an illegal drug threat. Nonetheless, the state that approved the program, growers and law enforcement are being especially responsible about introduction of the crop to North Dakota.

Hemp indeed has great potential. It does well in northern climates. Its varieties produce either a seed for crushing into oil and meal, or a versatile fiber that can be used to make cloth and other materials. The market for hemp-based products is good.

The hemp introduction has been a long time coming. It took North Dakota and other states to mount a push back to federal prohibitions on marijuana and related plants. The states have had some success, in part because of the experience of Canada, where industrial hemp is grown and marketed. The seed stock for North Dakota will come from Canada.

North Dakota farmers know how to grow crops. They are innovative, resourceful and willing to try new things. The opportunity hemp offers could be significant if the initial small acreages produce as expected. It’s been a good collaborative effort thus far among state officials, potential growers and law enforcement. It’s a small start, but a promising one.

Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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