The German Government announced this week that it is lifting its ban on the cultivation of hemp, a fibrous plant used to make food, textiles, fuel, soap, lubricating oils, cosmetics, building materials and other products.
Hemp has been stigmatized because it can also produce marijuana, but Minister of Health Horst Seehofer said the action would not affect laws against marijuana cultivation and sale.
Other European countries already permit the growing of hemp, and Germany is joining an industry that is regarded as so unremarkable that the European Union offers subsidies to growers.
"German farmers should be able to take advantage of the market potential for the hemp plant, which has many uses in industry and may also be a source of energy," Mr. Seehofer said. "We now have strains of hemp which contain such small amounts of the drug THC that they cannot be used for drug production. The principal argument against a continuing ban on hemp cultivation is therefore no longer valid."
Mr. Seehofer lifted the ban after Germany's Parliament recommended that he do so. He said hemp may now be legally grown as long as it contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance that gives marijuana and hashish their psychoactive quality.
Jochen Borchert, the Minister of Nutrition, Agriculture and Forests, said that hemp growers would have to obtain permits, and that their crops would be subject to inspection to insure that they do not grow plants potent enough to be used as intoxicants.
Germany's principal farmers' association had lobbied for a lifting of the ban, as had representatives of textile companies and the printing industry, which is interested in hemp-based paper.
Hemp was widely grown in Germany and across Europe until the 1930's, when an anti-marijuana campaign in the United States led many other countries to crack down on farmers who cultivated it. There has been virtually no hemp grown in Germany since then, although the law banning it dates only from 1982.
Although the new ruling may propel Germany to the forefront of Western Europe's producers, hemp is already cultivated on 24,000 acres in France, Spain and Britain. Larger amounts are believed to be grown in Eastern Europe.
As recently as two years ago, there was no visible interest in hemp production in Germany. Since then, a strong pro-hemp lobby has emerged. It is a combination of industrial lobbies, farmers seeeking new crops and veterans of the alternative and hippie scenes of past decades.
Interest in hemp was stimulated by the publication in 1993 of a 480-page book, "Rediscovery of the Useful Plant Hemp," which was printed on paper with a 50 percent hemp content. More than 100,000 copies have been sold.
According to the book, hemp is one of the world's oldest cultivated crops and requires little care and little or no pesticide or fertilizer. It says that cloth made from hemp is several times stronger than cotton and that hemp paper can be recycled 10 times, as opposed to three times for most pulp-based paper.
The book's editor, Mathias Brockers, has emerged as Germany's first hemp entrepreneur. He opened a shop in Berlin last year to sell products made from hemp, and now helps run a chain of 14 shops across the country.
The Berlin store offers hemp products ranging from jeans and neckties to furniture oil, shampoo and lipstick, and shoppers are invited to munch on hemp seeds that fill a bowl near the cash register.
This article has been digitised as it appears in print of The New York Times on , Section 1, Page 13 of the National edition with the headline: Germany Lifting Ban on Hemp Growing, but Not on Marijuana.