[ OUR OPINION ]
DEA should drop ban
on hemp cultivation
PRODUCERS of food items containing hemp have won a major court victory, but they still must obtain the ingredient from foreign countries. The small hemp industry may flourish, but Hawaii farmers will continue to be forbidden from including hemp to their diversified crops. That ludicrous situation will continue until the federal Drug Enforcement Administration understands that people can't get high on industrial hemp.
The federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Hawaii has ruled that the government cannot ban the sale of food containing hemp.
Hemp was America's third-largest agricultural commodity in the 19th century and remained a popular crop into the 1930s until Congress enacted a law that made no distinction between hemp and marijuana. Used in making rope, clothing and cosmetics, hemp also is an ingredient in food products such as nutrition bars, tortilla chips, pretzels, beer, candy, sauces and nondairy versions of milk and cheese.
The federal government sought to ban its use in food products for human consumption, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the ban was illegal because hemp contains only trace elements of the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. The Hemp Industries Association, representing more than 200 companies, applauded the ruling, assuring continued growth of the fledgling $200 million industry.
Beginning in December 1999, the DEA granted a series of brief permits for a hemp-growing experiment on a quarter acre of land near Wahiawa until it was closed last fall. David P. West, a plant geneticist hired by the University of Hawaii to conduct the experiment, was frustrated after the agency refused to give him a permanent permit to keep it in operation.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are related, but THC, the mind-altering chemical that comprises 7 percent to 20 percent of marijuana, accounts for only one-tenth of 1 percent of industrial hemp. The relationship between the two plants can be likened to the kinship of a doberman and a chihuahua. The 9th Circuit panel of judges noted that it is not possible to get high on the trace of THC found in industrial hemp and the DEA was wrong in trying to ban its use in food products.
The ruling will allow the DEA to continue the ban against cultivation of hemp. Drug officials have complained that they would have difficulty detecting marijuana in a field of hemp, which would allow farmers to engage covertly in illegal activity. West says that hiding marijuana in hemp fields would be "unlikely because cross-pollenization between hemp and marijuana plants would significantly reduce the potency of the marijuana plant."
West points out that Canada, from which the United States receives most of its imported hemp, has set a limit of 0.3 percent THC content in hemp plants and requires that all seeds be certified for THC content. Unfortunately, U.S. policy seems to be driven by politics instead of science.