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Hemp Legalization Effort Gathers Steam

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In the cannabis plant family, hemp is the good seed. Marijuana, the evil weed. Michael Bowman, a gregarious Colorado farmer who grows corn and wheat, has been working his contacts in Congress in an attempt to persuade lawmakers that hemp has been framed, unfairly lumped with the stuff people smoke to get high.

Somehow over time, as Bowman's pitch goes, hemp, which is used to make paper, oils and a variety of useful products, was mistaken for its twin, marijuana - a.k.a pot, chronic, blunt and weed - a medicinal drug loaded with tetrahydrocannabinol that buzzes the mind. Hemp got caught up in the legendary crusade against pot popularized by the movie "Reefer Madness." All varieties of cannabis ended up on the most-wanted list, outlawed by Congress as well as lawmakers in other nations, inspiring people to kill it on sight.

Bowman's message is simple: Be sensible. "Can we just stop being stupid? Can we just talk about how things need to change?"

While the United States ranks as the world's leading consumer of hemp products - with total sales of food and body-care products exceeding $43 million in 2011 - it is the only major industrialized country that bans growing it, even though 11 states have passed measures removing barriers to hemp production and research. Ninety percent of the U.S. supply comes from Canada.

Since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana by ballot initiatives last fall, a group of farmers and activists have been pushing to revive a crop they say offers a solution to vexing environmental, health and economic challenges.

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