2001: DEA Threatens Hemp Industry

DEA Threatens Hemp Industry. Vitamin Retailer, December 2001, by Lisa Schofield.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has issued new interim rules stating that any hemp product that “causes THC to enter the human body” may not be manufactured, sold or consumed in the United States. These rules, which were published in the October 9 issue of the Federal Register, caused much heated activity among manufacturers of hempseed-containing foods. [in response to a re-direction of its mission after 9/11, DEA tried to legalize 96% of the industry outright with no max THC, it was in response to a request by HIA for DEA to rule on the legality of hemp foods RR]

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the naturally occurring chemical in Cannabis sativa (marijuana) that causes the “groovy” psychoactive effects described as a euphoric relaxation and heightened sensation. Hemp, according to literature from Manitoba Harvest, a hemp food manufacturer based in Winnipeg, Canada, is a distant cousin of marijuana that contains a fraction of THC that marijuana does. “This is why hemp is legal and marijuana is not,” claims the company, “Eating hemp foods and oils will not get you ‘high.’”

The Hemp Foods Association (HFA), in an Oct. 16 statements clarified that the DEA wants to impose a ban on THC-containing hemp foods not a ban on all foods containing hemp. “The DEA has made it very clear that this is only a ban on THC in hempseed foods, not a ban on hempseed foods,” said the HFA statement. The HFA noted that the DEA’s interim rule is “merely a clarification of the basis under which the DEA, US Customs and all responsible hempseed importers have been operating under for quite some time, namely, that hempseed products may not contain tetrahydrocannabinol.”

The DEA’s interim rule declares that any person possessing THC-containing hemp foods has 120 days to dispose of them; the deadline date for such disposal is Feb. 6, 2002.

“From my point of view as a retailer, this DEA regulation is silly,” exclaimed retailer Peter Roang, president of Basics, WI. “Some manufacturers have even informed us they have ceased production of hemp foods because they just don’t want to get in the middle of the firefight.”

Roang added that “hemp has a lot of baggage — it carries a bad rap, and has a history of being the drug of choice for regulators and people in power who need to have something to control.”

Matt Murray, store manager for Wichita, KS-based Green Acres, said he thinks the DEA rules are “probably misdirected.”

Calling the DEA “myopic,” David Bronner, of Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, Escondido, CA, whose products contain hemp, added that, “this whole thing is absurd. I think the root reason why the DEA is doing this is that it sees hemp foods as interfering with its message that cannabis is a schedule one plant with no redeeming qualities at all.”

Bronner pointed out that, on the contrary, hemp’s nutrient profile is a very healthy one. It has the highest proportion of EFAs of any oil, an optimum ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 EFAs and a small but significant amount of GLA. “These are the reasons why there have been more functional foods with hemp seeds and oils available in the marketplace lately. In fact, hemp hummus and a non-dairy hemp milk are now in development, which will hopefully be available soon,” he related.

Drug Tests Behind Ban

The HFA believes the DEA’s motivation behind the news rules is a response to all the people who failed drug tests for which it wrongly blamed hempseed products. Many hempseed manufacturers have expected such an action from DEA and have utilized technology that provides “zero THC” products. “Improving processing standards to meet challenges in today’s market is the only way to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the hempseed products industry,” said the HFA.

Lynn Gordon, president of French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis, MN, which makes Hemp Bread, asserted, “We test our Hemp Bread and have documentation on the hemp seed and hemp flour we buy from our suppliers — and there are no levels of THC in our product. We will continue to make our Hemp Bread and will not cease production. As long as hemp foods test free and clear, what’s the issue?”

Bronner explained that most if not all hemp food companies participate in a voluntary program where they commit themselves to ensuring there are no THC amounts. “According to the official Health Canada protocol, there is no detectable THC in the food products of the major hemp food companies,” he said. “However, the DEA has not specified any protocol. And we are filing suit in the Ninth Circuit Court to invalidate the DEA’S rule.”

The Importance of Being Hemp

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), of which Bronner is a member, and supporting plaintiffs have filed a “stay pending review” in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the stay is granted, it would invalidate the interpretive rule and force the DEA into the formal rule-making process and allow an opportunity for public notice and comment prior to any rule taking effect.

The hemp industry has established TestPledge (www.test-pledge.com), a science-based protocol program wherein companies that manufacture hemp foods ensure that consumers have a wide margin of safety from confirming positive in a workplace drug-test even if one eats an unrealistic amount hemp foods regularly. [TestPledge was not science-based. It was voluntary and a sham RR]

According to literature supplied by the VoteHemp.Com, the DEAs actions are indeed puzzling, as Agency has not targeted makers of foods with poppy seeds which contain trace levels of opiates. Contrarily to the hemp advocates, the US government actually raised drug-test thresholds for opiates in the 1990s to accommodate marketers of poppy seed food products. [DEA was attempting to legalize all hemp products with this rule RR]

Richard Rose, president of the Hemp Food Association and founder of HempNut, Inc, Santa Rosa, CA, explained that when hempseed is harvested, “a small amount of the resin on the plant sticks to the outside of the seed’s shell. That resin contains extremely small amounts of THC, the drug component. Although this parts-per-million (ppm) amount of THC is not enough to produce a ‘high,’ it still can sometimes cause someone to test positive in a drug test for marijuana, due to the extreme sensitivity of the test.

Rose further explained that “in the relatively short five-year history of the hemp foods industry,” several manufacturers had made foods from whole hempseeds that were not cleaned properly, thus allowing the resin on the shells’ exterior to mingle in the food matrix, and winding up in positive drug tests in people who ate the foods.

A new technological breakthrough has recently been achieved that will allow manufacturers to continue selling hemp products without fear of violating DEA rules, according to Rose. This process allows manufactures to produce foods using “a form of hempseed which is not only below the 10 ppm detectable limit for THC, it is also 40 percent more nutritious than whole hempseed, unable to grow, far more palatable, and microbiologic ally cleaner. Called shelled hempseed, this new material is simply outer shell removed. Therefore, the discarded along with the shell.”

Andre Cholmondeley, store manager for Second Nature: Red Bank, NJ, calls himself a “huge advocate of hemp. When Jersey Governor Christie Whitman stopped in, I educated its many uses and its health attributes. It’s ironic how the government seems to have forgotten that the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.”

Caption: A wide variety of foods, including pasta, bread and cereals, feature hemp.

Caption: Andre Cholmondeley, (left) store manager for Second Nature, Red Bank, NJ, explains the benefits of hemp to then New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.

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