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Nebraska lawmakers tout benefits of hemp

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 1, 2014 at 5:56 pm •  Published: August 1, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lawmakers are expected to debate again next year whether Nebraska should allow expanded research and medical access for hemp, a plant cousin of marijuana.

Advocates for the crop gathered at the Capitol on Friday and briefly raised an American flag made of hemp fibers. Supporters are attempting to elevate the hemp flag over every state capitol as part of a campaign to promote the product. On July 4, 2013, the flag flew over the U.S. Capitol.

Hemp is a close plant cousin to marijuana, with only a tiny fraction of the THC chemical that produces marijuana's high.

More than 25,000 products are made from hemp fiber, seeds, oils and the interior of the stalk, according to the Congressional Research Service. The list includes fabrics, yarns, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, auto parts, animal feed, food and beverages, lotions and industrial oils.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue said she's working on legislation for next year that would allow for increased research and access to low-potency hemp oil as a treatment for epileptic seizures. Crawford also has introduced an interim study to explore the options, with a hearing set for later this year.

Crawford introduced a similar measure earlier this year, but withdrew it amid concerns that it ran afoul of federal law. The type of hemp oil used for treating the seizures is classified as an illegal drug, which prevents patients from getting access, she said. Crawford said she sent a letter Friday to every member of Nebraska's congressional delegation, urging them to support loosening the restrictions.

Federal rules "still block growth and development of the hemp industry," Crawford said. "Nebraska and other states can only go so far before we bump into federal restrictions."

Senators and Gov. Dave Heineman approved a law this year that will let the University of Nebraska grow industrial hemp for research purposes. The law was passed in response to this year's federal Farm Bill, which allowed for hemp production at universities and agriculture departments in states that consent. Nebraska is one of a dozen states that have approved industrial hemp legislation.

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