The three-year legal battle between The Hemp Industries Association of America (HIA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is finally over. Surprisingly, the hempsters won!
The Bush administration’s attempt to focus the drug war on harmless hemp was shot down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 6, 2004. It ruled that hemp does not get people high and that hemp-based foods are safe for human consumption.
The HIA, which represents over 200 hemp-based companies across North America, argued that the DEA ignored the exemption Congress made in the Controlled Substances Act, which excludes hemp oil, seed and fiber from regulation. Therefore, the Court reasoned that trace amounts of THC found in hemp was akin to the benign trace amounts of opiates inherent in poppy seeds.
The Court declared that the DEA could not regulate THC that is naturally-derived and not psychoactive. As hemp is not included in the Schedule I, the DEA cannot regulate it, and the Court said the DEA cannot reclassify hemp as a dangerous substance without first proving it has a “high potential for abuse.”
The DEA, represented by Justice Department lawyers, argued that consumers could get high from hemp food and that those hemp foods could impact drug test results. These arguments were not based on fact or reality and were dismissed quickly in court.
Though they won, the HIA was stuck with a $200,000 legal bill, not to mention the financial damage the hemp industry suffered due to retail stores pulling hemp products.?The costs incurred may be recovered if the HIA decides to take further action and seeks compensation from the feds, proving damages.
The US is the only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing of industrial hemp. Many other countries grow hemp as an agricultural crop, but the US has a policy on marijuana or anything related to it that borders on the paranoid.
As an industrial product, hemp was used in the early part of the 20th Century until the prohibition fever of the 1930’s resulted in a federal law banning marijuana completely. Hemp made a brief legal comeback in the US during WWII, when the government urged farmers to “grow hemp for victory.” But when the war ended, hemp could no longer be cultivated legally inside the US. However, hemp products could still be imported.
Most of the hemp food products used in the US come from Canada, where the government has set standards to allow for sensible THC limits in order to protect consumers from any psychoactive effects or false positives on drug tests.
Now that the DEA’s efforts to ban foods containing hemp products have been quashed, the hemp industry wants an apology from the feds. Further, the HIA charges that the Justice Department was aware that it had no legal right to ban hemp foods, but that it planned the industry-sinking maneuver simply as part of its attack against all things marijuana.
Official documents proving such willful wrongdoing have surfaced and have the hemp industry in an uproar, seeking to punish the government. According to Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, they “have uncovered documents through the Freedom of Information Act that prove the DEA’s own attorneys at the Department of Justice as far back as March 2000 knew they lacked the authority to ban hemp food products. The DEA owes over 200 companies and every American an apology for wasting taxpayer money pursuing a ban on hemp foods.”
The documents in question refer to a letter sent in March 2002 by John Roth, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Division of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. In it, Roth states that “while the department’s overall policy toward the cultivation of cannabis for hemp purposes is currently undergoing review by the Attorney General, it is our legal opinion that we presently lack the authority to prohibit the importation of hemp products.” This is damning evidence that the Justice Department knew they were embarking on an illegal crusade, one which served only to destroy livelihoods.
The official spokesman for the DEA, Will Glaspy, stated that the administration is consulting with its attorneys as to what response it will have to the ruling, if any.
When faced with the prospect of battling a DEA appeal, HIA publicist Adam Eidinger said his organization is more than ready.?”An appeal would help us,” he said. “It would be more mud on the DEA’s reputation and more publicity for us.”
Indeed, now that the ordeal of the court battle appears to be over, the HIA is keen to not waste any more precious time and is looking to concentrate on marketing and getting more hemp products on store shelves as soon as possible for mass consumption.
Some speculate that the Justice Department may now try to move against the hemp industry through different means, such as the US Food and Drug Administration.