Naked City

Hindering Hemp

On March 7, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Hemp Industries Association's motion for a stay of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's controversial "interpretive rule" banning the sale of hemp-derived food products. Adopted by the DEA in October 2001 without public notice or comment, the draconian rule claims that food products derived from hemp seeds and oil are subject to federal regulation since they often contain trace amounts of tetrahydracannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The DEA has argued that food products derived from hemp, the industrial form of marijuana, are appropriate for federal regulation under the Controlled Substances Act. But the Appeals court ruling hints that the court may ultimately disagree with the DEA, since the motion was granted based on a determination of whether or not the Hemp Industry Association is likely to prevail based on the merits of the case. "This makes us feel pretty confident," said David Bronner, creator of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap and chair of the HIA's oil and food committee. Lawyers for each side are scheduled to appear at a hearing before the San Francisco-based court on April 8.

Meanwhile, the rule, touted by DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson in a press release as protecting the "health and safety of all Americans," has drawn the ire of at least 22 members of Congress -- among them Texas' own U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. In a March 7 letter to the DEA, the legislators called the new rule "overly restrictive," and urged the agency to "establish reasonable standards" for industry regulation.

In establishing the rule, it appears the DEA ignored previous legal advice they got from the Dept. of Justice. According to a letter dated March 23, 2000, from John Roth, chief of the DOJ's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section, to then acting DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall, the DOJ found that products derived from "hemp" are explicitly excluded from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act. "Those hemp products intended for human consumption have THC at levels too low to trigger a psychoactive effect," Roth wrote, and "are not purchased, sold or marketed with the intent of having a psychoactive effect."

To Bronner, the DEA's apparent disregard for the law confirms the absurdity of the new rule. "That's what's so ridiculous," he said. "The law is so clear, and [the rule] is just a reactionary, myopic agenda where [the DEA] feels they can roll over the law and Congress and destroy a growing industry."

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