Hemp Food Stays in Stores

DEA Backs Down in Face of Imminent Court Action

ARLINGTON, VA -- The Drug Enforcement Administration handed a victory to the multimillion-dollar-a-year hemp food industry last night when they told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit they will extend the “grace period” for hemp food products that contain “any THC.” The extension reassures retailers stocking and selling hemp food products that, for the next 40 days, the DEA will not commence enforcement action. Ultimately, the hemp food industry expects to prevail against the DEA’s attempt to ban hemp foods because Congress exempted nutritious hemp seed and oil from regulation (see 21 U.S.C. §802(16)), and the trace infinitesimal THC in hemp seed and oil is not psychoactive and does not interfere with workplace drug-testing (see www.testpledge.com.

Lawyers representing the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and several major hemp food companies went to court Wednesday when it was apparent the DEA intended to enforce its October 9th “interpretive rule” banning foods with “any THC.” DEA told Whole Foods, the largest natural foods supermarket chain in the U.S., to remove hemp food products from store shelves even though there is no detectable THC in the hemp seed and oil under the official Health Canada protocol.

In a letter sent yesterday to the Court of Appeals, Daniel Dormont, Senior Attorney for the DEA, wrote, “It is my understanding that the Court of Appeals wishes to know whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was planning to commence enforcement action while the petitioners’ motion for a stay is pending, given that the grace period published in the interim rule ended yesterday (February 6). In the view of the Court’s inquiry, DEA will extend the grace period… for an additional 40 days, through March 18, 2002. As we discussed, this should allow the Court to rule on the motion prior to the expiration of the grace period.”

“We’re pleased that DEA backed off from enforcement while the Court takes a hard look at a rule we know is arbitrary and misguided,” says Eric Steentstra, President of Vote Hemp.

Hemp manufacturers are pleased that hemp foods will stay on store shelves and expect to ultimately prevail in court. Environmental activist Woody Harrelson, who invested over $200,000 in developing a non-dairy “hemp milk” through his company Tierra Madre, said, “The DEA is a rogue agency distorting the law to destroy the livelihoods of hardworking Americans who have built a natural and sustainable industry.” (Non-dairy milk is one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the natural food marketplace).

Hemp seed has a well-balanced protein content and the highest content of essential fatty acids (EFAs) of any oil in nature: EFAs are the good fats that, like vitamins, the body does not produce and which doctors traditionally have recommended eating fish and flax to obtain. Thus, hemp seed and oil are increasingly incorporated as ingredients in a myriad of natural foods to boost their nutritional profile. U.S. companies are currently manufacturing cereals, waffles, pretzels, chips, salad dressings, bread and granola bars, among other products, that contain hemp seed or oil. Hemp seeds are harvested from non-psychoactive industrial hemp plants grown in Canada and Europe under strict regulatory regimes and have no potential psychoactive “drug” effect and do not interfere with drug testing even when unrealistic amounts are eaten on a daily basis. Poppy seeds, commonly consumed on bagels, contain harmless trace opiates (that have historically interfered with workplace drug tests), and DEA has sensibly not attempted to override the Congressional exemption of poppy seeds from the statutory definition of “opium poppy” in the CSA even though natural opiates in themselves are controlled elsewhere in the CSA.

On October 9, 2001, without any public notice or comment, the DEA issued an “interpretive rule” purporting to make hemp foods containing non-psychoactive miniscule trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana, immediately illegal under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. In fact, the U.S. Congress exempted non-viable hemp seed and oil from control under the CSA, 21 U.S.C. §802 (16), regardless of the presence of any trace miniscule THC (just as poppy seeds are exempted from the CSA despite containing trace opiates).

Internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the DEA was instructed by the DOJ (of which DEA is part) in March of 2000 not to restrict the import of hemp seed and oil: “Hemp products intended for human consumption have THC at levels too low to trigger a psychoactive effect and are not purchased, sold or marketed with the intent of having a psychoactive effect.” The original memo from John Roth, Chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the DOJ, to Donnie Marshall, Acting Administrator of the DEA, is available upon request (an identical letter was also sent to U.S. Customs by Mr. Roth).

The 10-year-old global hemp market is a thriving commercial success. Unfortunately, because DEA’s drug-war paranoia has confounded the biologically distinct non-psychoactive industrial hemp varieties of cannabis with the psychoactive marijuana varieties, the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing and processing of industrial hemp.

Please visit www.votehemp.com to read scientific studies and see court documents.

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