BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul praised hemp as an alternative crop and said a free-market approach would protect the nation's environment Monday during North Dakota campaign stops that drew hundreds of cheering supporters.
North Dakota, which is holding Republican presidential caucuses March 6, is one of 13 states with a caucus or primary from Feb. 28 to March 6. North Dakota has 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August, although the caucus results will not dictate how any of them vote.
Paul campaigned in Williston, Dickinson, Jamestown and Bismarck on Sunday and Monday, following rival Rick Santorum's swing through Fargo, on the Minnesota border, and the northwestern oil-country town of Tioga last week.
In Jamestown, about 100 miles east of Bismarck, Paul was critical of the federal government's ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp, a crop that is related to marijuana but does not have its mind-affecting properties.
Industrial hemp is grown in neighboring Canada and other countries, where it is used to make paper, lotions, clothing and biofuels.
North Dakota's Legislature and Agriculture Department have pushed allowing hemp to be grown in the state. A state lawmaker who wanted to cultivate the crop filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking a declaration that doing so would be legal.
"There is no reason, in a free society, that farmers shouldn't be allowed to raise hemp," Paul said during a Jamestown appearance that drew about 300 people. "Hemp is a good product."
In Bismarck, where the Republican congressman spoke to about 1,200 people Monday night in the gymnasium of a private Christian school, Paul said enforcement of private property rights would be sufficient to protect citizens against pollution, rather than relying on the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
"The more socialized a system is, the worse the property is, and the worse the environment is," Paul said. "We should never be bashful about saying we believe in property rights ... and we don't have to give one inch and say that we're careless with the environment, because you don't have a right to pollute your neighbor's property."
In North Dakota's Republican presidential caucuses in 2008, Paul finished third behind Mitt Romney and John McCain, getting 21 percent of the almost 9,800 votes case.
Duane Sattler, of Richardton, was one of the sign-carrying Paul supporters who attended his Bismarck speech. His son, 13-year-old Shawn Sattler, sat nearby, waving an American flag.
"He's been standing alone a lot of times," Sattler said of Paul. "He votes for our personal freedoms, for sound money, and for less government and less taxes."
He became a Paul supporter during his presidential run in 2008, Sattler said. "I really went and did some research, and the deeper I dug, the more I liked the man," he said. "With the other candidates, the deeper I dug, the less I liked them."