Hemp Hemp No Way
The DEA bans hemp-derived food products.
Forget about the reported increase in Taliban-trafficked heroin making its way to the states. The Drug Enforcement Administration has bigger fish to fry: stopping the spread of those darned hemp seed oil veggie burgers and cheese blocks.
That's right: On Oct. 9, the DEA issued a ruling in the Federal Register permanently banning all food products that include hemp derivatives -- most notably hemp seed oil, which has been shown to have numerous nutritional benefits. The problem, it seems, is that the federal Controlled Substances Act doesn't differentiate between commercial hemp and marijuana, and lists any pot product containing tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) as a Schedule I controlled substance. "Human consumption" of any Schedule I drug is a big no-no. Food products derived from hemp seeds and stalks are sterilized but often still contain trace amounts of THC, which puts the DEA's knickers in a bunch.
Current Bush-appointed DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson (a former Arkansas congressman and Bob Jones University grad) released an official statement in an attempt to explain the seemingly asinine ruling. "Many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant," he said, "and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana." Yet most hemp products are derived from a form of marijuana known as "ditchweed"; no self-respecting pot smoker would even bother with that stuff.
According to the D.C.-based Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet), one would have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high from the THC contained in any commercial hemp product. "This is an absolute abuse of power," DRCNet Executive Director David Borden says. "It is simply aimed at putting an entire industry out of business. It is almost unprecedented and deserves to be punished." Borden suspects the timing of the ruling was intentional. With all that's been going on, he points out, who would have the time or energy to fight this arbitrary ruling?
An even more sinister hypothesis comes from Allen St. Pierre, head of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). St. Pierre believes the ban is associated with direct lobbying efforts by the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, which has long complained they haven't been able to develop a drug test that would separate out the source of THC in a person's bloodstream. "There is an incredible symbiotic relationship between [the drug testing group] and these federal entities," he says. "It's flat earth thinking. You can't apply Plato-like logic to this because it is all politics."
St. Pierre says the Hemp Industries Assoc. -- the national group of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of hemp products -- is currently seeking legal action against the DEA, beginning with a temporary restraining order. "The only way they will succeed, though," he said, "is if this is a multilevel effort. We need to kick this up to the level that it catches enough people's attention."
As part of its ruling, the DEA has mandated that anyone currently in possession of hemp-derived foods has a 120-day grace period to destroy them. However, consuming these products is not an acceptable form of disposal. "During this 120-day period no person may use any THC-containing 'hemp' product for human consumption," reads the rule. Borden of DRCNet says his group plans to stage an eat-in outside the DEA's D.C. headquarters. "Maybe we can even turn some agents on to hemp products," he jokes.
Meanwhile, the DEA has left one exception to their bizarre new rules: "personal care" products, like lotions and oils, will still be allowed -- at least until the DEA can determine if those products are meant to be THC delivery systems. According to the ruling, "If a personal care 'hemp' product is formulated and designed to be used in a way that causes THC to enter the human body, the product is not exempted from control."
A week after the DEA's decision, neither Whole Foods Market nor Wheatsville Co-op -- both retailers of hemp food and personal care products -- had even heard of the new rules. Says Christine Stout, a manager at Wheatsville, "What? That's crazy. These are very popular products." And Whole Foods spokeswoman Amy Hopfensperger said the company had no idea about the DEA ruling until contacted by the Chronicle. Whole Foods will further investigate the issue before issuing an official statement.
For more info, check out