Reefer Madness

N.D. Farmers Apply for Hemp Permits

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson last August signing off on a proposed state rule allowing farmers there to legally grow industrial hemp
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson last August signing off on a proposed state rule allowing farmers there to legally grow industrial hemp (Photo By Scott T. Samson)

According to North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, his meeting with Drug Enforcement Administration officials last month wasn't exactly encouraging. Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C., in February (his second trip to the Capitol to meet with the DEA) to hand-deliver the North Dakota industrial hemp-farming licenses he's signed off on for two farmers – the first two farmers to be licensed to grow the environmentally friendly crop since the state codified rules for the plant's cultivation last fall. Although the state has licensed the farmers, they still need the nod from the DEA in order to sow their seeds – and whether the DEA will actually allow the agricultural endeavor to go forward is still unclear. "They made it clear that they continue to believe that industrial hemp and marijuana are the same thing," he said. "So we had a discussion about how I, and the rest of the world, have come to the opinion that they are not the same thing. And my hope is that … [the DEA] might start thinking about how to differentiate the two in their rules and their application."

If history is any guide, it is unlikely that will happen or that the narcos will sign off on the farmers' bid – the agency has only ever granted one request to grow the crop, to researchers in Hawaii, whose permit has long since expired. More commonly, the DEA simply ignores requests to grow hemp, which they consider a danger to their anti-drug mission (indeed, the agency has yet to make a final ruling on an application made by researchers at North Dakota State University in 1999). The DEA theory that justifies their choke hold on domestic hemp production goes a little something like this: Marijuana and hemp are strains of cannabis. Pot is illegal; therefore, hemp is illegal, and allowing its cultivation would encourage the illicit production of marijuana. This is, of course, a simplified version, but it nonetheless captures the essence of their anti-hemp stance: asinine and willfully thickheaded.

The truth is that hemp and pot are quite different – most importantly, hemp is nonnarcotic and thus really not anything with which the DEA should be concerned. Still, a quirk in the language of the Controlled Substances Act allows the agency control over hemp farming. And so that's where farmers and officials in North Dakota, eager to add hemp to their crop rotation, are – stuck in a quagmire of bureaucratic crap and government propaganda that, all told, has earned the U.S. the dubious distinction of being the only developed country in the world without an established hemp crop. That's pretty embarrassing, given our increasingly urgent talk about finding renewable, sustainable energy sources and the importance of being green. Not surprisingly, it doesn't seem that the DEA cares about any of this; fortunately, North Dakota officials and farmers do.

And so, earlier this month, Johnson went to D.C. to hand over the official application forms for two North Dakota farmers – including Dave Monson, a fourth-generation farmer and veteran Republican state lawmaker – along with two checks, each for nearly $2,300, the cost just to apply for federal permission to grow hemp. "I handed [DEA officials] the two licenses I'd issued, and I also gave them the applications and checks," Johnson said during a recent interview. "And I think they were quite surprised that farmers would write a check for that amount of money to grow industrial hemp." For sure, that's a lot of money to fork over, especially without any guarantee that you'll get anything at all for it. Indeed, in handing over the paperwork, Johnson urged DEA officials to expedite their review of the farmers' application, asking that they make a decision to grant or deny the requests within the next two months so that the farmers will know whether they'll be able to plant the crop this spring. Timing, Johnson said, is of the essence: "If they come back in July and say, 'OK, we've approved your application,' it's useless," Johnson said, because DEA permits are only good for a year (meaning farmers have to reapply and pay the $2,300 each year for permission to grow), and by July the North Dakota growing season is nearly over. "Really, it's like paying $2,300 to get a chance to fill out a piece of paper," Johnson said. In all, Johnson – a mild-mannered family farmer whose office in the North Dakota Capitol is decorated with agricultural accoutrements, a collection of die-cast toy tractors, a vase full of dried wheat – is pretty frustrated with the DEA. "To me, it's just very disappointing that they seem to be so stuck in the past and unable to figure out that there is a legitimate business out here with a crop that is no threat to them or to [increased] drug use," he said. "From that standpoint, it was a very disappointing meeting."

But while the DEA remains unmoved, the hemp movement continues to grow. On March 6, New Mexico became the 15th state to join the effort to reauthorize domestic hemp production when lawmakers there passed a resolution calling for the New Mexico State University Board of Regents to undertake a study on the viability of growing hemp there and urging Congress – as have several other states – to "recognize … hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity" and to finally, once and for all, "define hemp in federal law as a non-psychoactive and genetically identifiable species" of cannabis. Encouraging hemp farming, New Mexico lawmakers say, "will improve the balance of trade by promoting domestic sources of industrial hemp," a plant that "can make a positive contribution to the issues of global climate change and carbon sequestration."

In other news, Reefer Madness was surprised to discovered that we'd completely missed bow-tied boob Tucker Carlson's stepping up to the plate last month to take a jab at the feds' overwhelmingly tired rant about how marijuana is the devil and all that crap, during a segment on his show with drug warrior guest Rep. Mark Souder, R-Indiana. To be fair, Carlson has, every now and again, espoused skepticism about the war on pot but never so blatantly as during the Feb. 9 segment. Perhaps that's because Souder was so overwhelmingly out of it – dare we question what he might have been smoking? – that he fell off the deep end of logic and into the morass of propagandistic gobbledygook, leaving Carlson no choice but to attack his credibility. While Souder was there, ostensibly, to defend Prez George W.'s budget request for $130 million toward the oft-discredited anti-drug advertisement campaign, he went a tad overboard and wound up pulling facts outta … well, we don't really want to know where. To wit: The reason the feds keep pushing the anti-pot message, he said, is that it is the "primary gateway drug" – but (everybody now!) not the same pot the kids used to smoke in the Sixties. Now, he said, the kids are smokin' the "BC Bud, Quebec Gold, and this … isn't like the Cheech and Chong" pot, he said. Oh no, this pot, is "more like cocaine," he asserted.

When Carlson popped in for clarification, Souder continued, claiming the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol are far greater than they were in his day, meaning the "kick and addiction you get, the destruction in your brain cells, is more like coke or crack than it is like the old-time marijuana."

"OK," Bow Tie shot back, "and how many people died from overdoses last year?" Souder, of course, couldn't answer this – although he asserted that a full 65% of emergency-room admissions are related to pot use. Carlson, not buying, asked again, "But did anyone die that you know of?"

"Presumably so, thousands have died," Souder said, backpedaling slightly, morphing his clearly ridiculous answer into one where pot is clearly implicated in many deaths because of its gateway magic: "No drug user is a single-drug user," he said. "So marijuana is often in the mix of most deaths." A pot smoker "is very seldom just a casual drug user, except in the early stages," he said. "They're often going to poly-drug."

Finally, Carlson just had to put Souder out of his rambling misery: "I'm not endorsing drugs, but I know a lot of casual marijuana users. So that's wrong, but I appreciate your coming on," he concluded. "Thanks a lot, congressman."

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War on Drugs, Tucker Carlson, Mark Souder, marijuana, pot, Drug War, Roger Johnson, industrial hemp, DEA

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