Monday, December 28, 2009

Court Says No to Hemp


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for drug manufacturing and would then also drag its feet in reviewing and deciding on the those applications, the state repealed that provision of the law.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 northeastern part of the state, and David Monson, from the northwestern 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).

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