Reefer Madness

DEA: 1, Hemp Farmers: 0

Reefer Madness
Illustration by Leah Lovise

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. It matters not that hemp is grown for its seed, oil, and fiber and contains less than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in the 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."

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 in 1999 to reintroduce hemp as a rotational crop. 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for drug manufacturing and would then also drag its feet in reviewing and deciding on those applications, the state repealed that provision of the law. Wayne Hauge, a farmer from the northwestern part of the state, and David Monson, a Republican state representative from the northeastern section, were the first licensed in the state to grow hemp, but they have yet to do so because they face federal drug prosecution if they go forward without DEA approval. The DEA has not acted on their applications for permission to grow the plant.

Now with the 8th 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. The latter appears a more likely route, though how quickly that strategy 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, fuels, paints, and lubricants to paper, 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 Canadian farmers 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. Of course, the "fastest and easiest way to handle this," he added, "would be for the president to order the Department of Justice to stand down on all actions against industrial hemp."

For more "Reefer Madness," see the archive.

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industrial hemp, Reefer Madness, David Monson, Ron Paul, drug war, Drug Enforcement Administration, Wayne Hauge

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