2 farmers suing DEA over right to grow hemp
By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/200 ... suit_N.htm
Two North Dakota farmers who want to grow hemp are filing a federal lawsuit today to challenge the Drug Enforcement Administration's ban on the plant that is the same species that produces marijuana.
Hemp can be imported from Canada, Europe and China, but growing hemp in the USA is illegal, the DEA says.
"Hemp is marijuana," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney says. "There's no distinguishing feature between marijuana and hemp."
Lawyers for the farmers say the Controlled Substances Act, which governs illegal drugs, makes a specific exception for hemp, a non-drug version of the marijuana plant. They are seeking a court ruling that says the federal authorities cannot arrest the North Dakota farmers for growing hemp.
The federal government used to encourage farmers to grow what is known as "industrial hemp," says attorney Joseph Sandler in Washington, D.C., who is representing the farmers. Hemp plants have a low concentration of the psychoactive chemical that gives marijuana users a high, he said.
"You can smoke 17 fields of this stuff, and it's not going to do anything," Sandler says. "It doesn't make sense to say you can import all this hemp, but you can't grow it and import it from North Dakota to South Dakota."
North Dakota's Legislature began considering allowing farmers to grow hemp more than 10 years ago after disease wiped out the wheat and barley crop, says state Rep. Dave Monson, a Republican leader in the Legislature and one of the farmers filing the lawsuit.
In 1993, the disease was so bad, "we actually burned every acre of wheat and barley we produced," says Monson, who lives in Osnabrock. "I came to the realization that we needed alternative crops."
Just across the North Dakota border, farmers in Canada are growing hemp and making a profit, he says. U.S. manufacturers who use hemp to produce textiles, soaps and other materials must import the crop from countries that allow hemp farming.
A North Dakota State University study in 1997 found a good market for hemp in the USA, so the Legislature passed laws to regulate hemp farming, Monson said. The laws require background checks on the farmers and monitoring to make sure illicit marijuana crops aren't growing in the middle of the hemp field, he says.
Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson issued the first permits on Feb. 6 to Monson and Wayne Hauge, a farmer and accountant in Ray, N.D. The farmers applied Feb. 12 for a DEA license, indicating they would need a decision by April 1 in time to plant the crop.
On March 27, DEA deputy administrator Joseph Rannazzisi in a letter to Johnson said it was unrealistic to expect a decision in seven weeks. That's where the plan stalled.
"I think it's pretty apparent that they are quite clearly choosing not to exercise their authority to distinguish between hemp and marijuana," says Johnson, who met with DEA officials in February.
"It's pointless to continue dealing with them," Johnson says. "Their inaction is a pretty clear indication that they're not taking the application process seriously. It's been an issue 10 years in the making."
Monson and Hauge say the time to plant the hemp has passed. Monson planted wheat in his field on June 1.
Courtney says the DEA is still reviewing the application and is concerned that the farmers will not be able to keep their fields secure. "We have to take a balanced approach to the application," he said. "We have to look at every aspect of the application. I don't think you can put a time frame on that sort of issue. It takes time."
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