Court Says No to Hemp

After years of legal wrangling, appeals court rules against North Dakota farmers

Hemp growing in Manitoba, Canada.
Hemp growing in Manitoba, Canada. (by Photo by Scott T. Samson)

More than a year after two farmers appeared before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to argue for their right to grow industrial hemp without the intrusion of federal narcos, the court ruled Dec. 22 in favor of the Drug Enforcement Administration and, by default, the ban on U.S. hemp farming.

According to the court's decision, industrial hemp, the non-narcotic cousin of marijuana, is nothing more than dope and thus is regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act. And it matters not that hemp is grown for its seed, oil and fiber, and contains less than one percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in drug marijuana. "Under the CSA, marijuana is defined to include all Cannabis sativa L. plants, regardless of THC concentration," the court wrote. "The CSA likewise makes no distinction between Cannabis grown for drug use and that grown for industrial use."

Of course the CSA does exempt oil, fiber and nonactive seeds from regulation, but because all growing plants contain some level of THC, the court's reasoning is that the stated exceptions to regulation are, essentially, meaningless for farming purposes.

North Dakota farmers have been struggling with the DEA since the state passed a law to reintroduce hemp as a rotational crop in 1999. The law originally required state-licensed farmers to receive DEA approval, but after the agency made it clear it would make the farmers comply with regulations for drug manufacturing and would then also drag its feet in reviewing and deciding on the those applications, the state repealed that provision of the law. Wayne Hauge, a farmer from the northwestern part of the state, and David Monson, from the northeastern section and also a Republican state representative, were the first licensed in the state to grow hemp but have yet to do so because they face federal drug prosecution if they do so without DEA approval. The DEA has not acted on their applications to the agency for permission to grow the plant.

Now with the Eighth Circuit agreeing that the DEA has the power to regulate the cultivation of hemp, Hauge, Monson and the state of North Dakota have few options. They could appeal to the Supremes, as unlikely as that sounds, or they could go to Congress. That appears a more likely route, though how quickly that would result in any change is an open question: Texas Liberpublican Ron Paul has been trying to reauthorize hemp farming for years, but still hasn't gotten his bill a committee hearing. And last year the North Dakota delegation said it wasn't interested in pushing for hemp farming rights, even though the issue is a big one for constituents (there's representative government at work, thank you very little).

But perhaps one of these days Congress will realize that the environmentally friendly crop – used for everything from automotive parts and fuels, paints and lubricants, paper and food and body care products – would actually help green up agriculture and manufacturing. Indeed, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without an established hemp crop. That means, in part, that although the U.S. market for hemp products continues to grow by double digits each year, the hemp that it takes to feed that market must be imported, often from as far away as China or from as close to home as Canada – indeed, there are farmers there cultivating the crop less than 30 miles from Monson's family farm. "I guess the next step is we'll have to take it to Congress," Hauge told the Associated Press. But, of course, the "fastest and easiest way to handle this would be for the president to order the Dept. of Justice to stand down on all actions against industrial hemp."

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Marijuana, industrial hemp, DEA, David Monson, Wayne Hauge, drug war, Ron Paul

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