Two North Dakota farmers filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota in an effort to end the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) obstruction of commercial hemp farming in the United States. If successful, the legal action would result in licensed hemp farmers receiving assurances that no federal agency could hold them criminally liable under the Controlled Substances Act.
Vote Hemp’s grassroots supporters are funding the legal action. A copy of the complaint is available online here.
The farmers – State Rep. David Monson from Osnabrock and Wayne Hauge from Ray – were issued their state licenses to grow industrial hemp from North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson in February 2007. At that time the farmers applied for a DEA permit to grow industrial hemp and import live seed. Over the next few months, however, the agency’s inaction on the applications fueled frustration in North Dakota’s legislature. When lawmakers concluded that the DEA had no intention of working cooperatively with the state’s first-in-the-nation hemp farming rules, the North Dakota legislature voted overwhelmingly to drop the DEA licensing requirement from the statute.
“I applied for my North Dakota state license in January and was hopeful that the DEA would act quickly and affirm my right to plant industrial hemp this year. Unfortunately, the DEA has not responded in any way other than to state that it would take them a lot more time than the window of time I have to import seed and plant the crop,” said Rep. David Monson, who is the Assistant Majority (Republican) Leader. “It appears that the DEA really doesn’t want to work with anyone to resolve the issue,” Monson added.
One of the central arguments in the litigation is that industrial hemp is defined to be those varieties of Cannabis that have no drug value and are cultivated exclusively for fiber and seed. Although useless as a drug crop, industrial hemp plants are distinct varieties of Cannabis sativa L., the same species from which marijuana varieties come. The DEA considers industrial hemp plants to be “marihuana,” a controlled substance under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. ?? 801 et seq., the possession or production of which is subject to severe criminal penalties under that law, including property forfeiture.
“We are asking the DEA to do nothing, which is exactly what they have done for ten years,” says Tim Purdon, one of the attorneys working for Monson and Hauge. “North Dakota’s rules no longer require a DEA license, so we are basically asking the court to tell the DEA to leave our farmers alone.”
The express language of the CSA has specifically provided that hemp fiber, seed oil and seed incapable of germination are exempt from the definition of “marihuana” and are thus not controlled substances under that law. By virtue of this exemption, it is currently lawful under federal law – and has been for almost 70 years – to import into the U.S., sell within the U.S., and make and sell products made from, the excluded parts of the Cannabis plant (i.e., hemp fiber, stalk, seed oil and seed incapable of germination).
The farmers seek a declaration that the CSA does not apply to the industrial hemp plants they seek to cultivate pursuant to state law because: (1) only hemp fiber, stalk, sterilized seed and seed oil, items expressly exempted from the CSA, will enter the marketplace; and (2) the industrial hemp to be grown will be useless as a drug crop due to North Dakota legal requirements for extremely low THC levels. Further, to the extent the DEA attempts to argue that, despite these facts, the CSA does apply to hemp farming under North Dakota law, any DEA action would be an unconstitutional federal restraint on commerce occurring purely within the borders of North Dakota.
“I want to grow hemp because it will fill a niche market in numerous areas,” says fourth generation farmer and certified public accountant Wayne Hauge. “In recent years there has been strong growth in demand for hemp seeds in the U.S., but the American farmer is being left out while Canadian, European and Chinese farmers are filling the void created by our outdated federal policy.”
Last year, just over 48,000 acres of hemp were grown in Canada, primarily in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, provinces that border North Dakota. Hemp farmers in Canada averaged $250 CDN per acre in profit in 2006, according to the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, an association of businesses, farmers and researchers.
Hemp is a good rotational crop with the ability to reduce weeds in future crops. Very few chemicals, if any, are required to grow the crop which is considered a good alternative to those with harmful environmental impacts such as cotton, tobacco and soy.
In the largest hemp producing country, China, which grows 2 million acres, hemp hurds are processed into lightweight boards, and hemp fibers, already used in the paper and automotive industries, are finding new uses as reinforcement in plastics for products such as window frames and floor coverings. (In fact, some of these innovative products will be used on a large scale at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, according to news reports.) In Sweden, companies including IKEA, Volvo and Saab have shown interest in hemp fibers and hurds for use in vehicle interiors and furniture. In the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, considerable investments are being made to utilize hemp fiber in composites which are used to manufacture auto parts for BMW, Chrysler and Mercedes. In Canada, Germany and Japan, businesses are investigating reinforcing Polylactide (PLA) plastic with hemp fibers in order to widen the technology’s field of applications.
– Vote Hemp is a non-profit organization dedicated to the acceptance of and a free market for industrial hemp and to changes in current law to allow U.S. farmers to once again grow the crop. Industrial hemp is non-psychoactive, low-THC varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. www.VoteHemp.com
2 Farmers Suing DEA Over Right to Grow Hemp
by Donna Leinwand
June 17, 2006
Farmers File Federal Lawsuit Over Hemp
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