LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- As more states legalize marijuana, supporters see a burgeoning business for hemp, and big profits for U.S. farmers if they are allowed to grow the crop.

Hemp, like marijuana, is a cannabis plant. Even though it does not does not create a high like marijuana, federal drug laws lump it together with pot.

Although it comes fromthe same plant, it s like non-alcoholic beer, said author Doug Fine, who predicts a new green economy in his book Too High to Fail.

I can t give a rational explanation as to why something as valuable as hemp - which other countries are making so much money off and importing to us - why we re not growing this by the millions of acres, Fine said.

Farmers in the U.S. are effectively banned from growing the crop under a federal law that requires a special permit from the DEA and lots of security.

The National Farmers Union recently adopted a new policy urging the Obama administration and Congress to direct the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana and adopt policy to allow American farmers to grow industrial hemp under state law without requiring DEA licenses.

The U.S. is the largest consumer of hemp products, which are sold mainly at health shops and nutrition-conscious grocery stores like Mountain View Market in Las Cruces. But most of the hemp in the seeds, milk, and soap are from plants grown in other countries, including Canada.

Fine blames the war on drugs. He supports legalizing both hemp and marijuana. Every border state except Texas has approved medical marijuana use.

The fact that we have exploding criminal cartels south of the border and no impact on supply and demand north of the border mandates that we change this misguided policy, Fine said.

His message resonates with a growing number of Americans. Edit Treadwell came to hear Fine s talk in Las Cruces, sponsored by Southwest Seniors.

The amount of money that this country spends fighting something that we know now is a losing battle seems ridiculous, said Treadwell after hearing Fine talk about commercial hemp. We need jobs, and if this industry was developed, that would be beneficial.

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