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Farmers Ask Federal Court To Dissociate Hemp and Pot

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007; A03



Wayne Hauge grows grains, chickpeas and some lentils on 2,000 acres in northern North Dakota. Business is up and down, as the farming trade tends to be, and he is always on the lookout for a new crop. He tried sunflowers and safflowers and black beans. Now he has set his sights on hemp.

Hemp, a strait-laced cousin of marijuana, is an ingredient in products from fabric and food to carpet backing and car door panels. Farmers in 30 countries grow it. But it is illegal to cultivate the plant in the United States without federal approval, to the frustration of Hauge and many boosters of North Dakota agriculture.

On Wednesday, Hauge and David C. Monson, a fellow aspiring hemp farmer, will ask a federal judge in Bismarck to force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers.

"I'm looking forward to the court battle," said Hauge, a 49-year-old father of three. "I don't know why the DEA is so afraid of this."

The law is the law and it treats all varieties of Cannabis sativa L. the same, Bush administration lawyers argue in asking U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland to throw out the case. The DEA says a review of the farmers' applications is underway.

To clear up the popular confusion about the properties of what is sometimes called industrial hemp, the crop's prospective purveyors explain that hemp and smokable marijuana share a genus and a species but are about as similar as rope and dope.

The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. While hemp typically contains 0.3 percent THC, the leaves and flowers coveted by pot smokers have 5 percent or more, sometimes up to 30 percent.

"You could smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole," Hague said of hemp, "and it's not going to provide you with a high."

Experts on the subject say a headache is far more likely than a buzz.

In the small town of Ray, N.D., Hauge said people -- his friends, mostly -- make cracks.

"Usually it's something about whether or not the DEA is going to arrest me or if my phone is being tapped," Hauge said. "It's kind of difficult to provoke me. I'm also a CPA, and I have had a tax practice in Ray for 25 years. I was an EMT for 18 years. And I'm not a person who smokes. I don't smoke anything. I exercise a lot and I'm pretty healthy."

David Bronner is a vegan California businessman who uses hemp oil to make his Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap richer and smoother. He touts hemp milk as a challenger to soy and adds hemp seeds, full of Omega-3 fatty acids, to a snack bar called Alpsnack.

He says the hulled seeds look like sesame seeds and taste like pine nuts.

Bronner's company spends about $100,000 a year importing 10,000 pounds of hemp oil and 10,000 pounds of seeds from Canada. To do so, he first had to win a federal court battle with the Justice Department, which tried to ban the imports. One of his arguments was the prevalence and popularity of the crop elsewhere.

"In Canada and Europe, where industrial hemp is grown, no one is trying to smoke it and the sky is not falling," said Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association, a trade group. Likening hemp seeds to marijuana, he said, is like equating poppy seeds with opium.

Hauge is joined by Monson, a Republican state legislator who helped pass a law in 1999 that would permit hemp cultivation and establish limits to ease the federal government's worries. They have the backing of Vote Hemp, an advocacy organization, and state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, who personally delivered paperwork to the DEA in February on the farmers' behalf.

In a lengthy March 5 letter to DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, Johnson quoted a university professor's conclusion that under "the most fundamental principles of pharmacology, it can be shown that it is absurd, in practical terms, to consider industrial hemp useful as a drug."

That's how Tim Purdon sees it. He is a Bismarck lawyer for Hauck and Monson.

"Some people call me up with the idea that my clients and myself are some sort of marijuana legalization effort," Purdon said. "My clients are farmers. They are looking for a crop they can make money on in the tough business of being a family farmer."

Hauge is feeling optimistic. He has signed up for a hemp cultivation seminar in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It starts Friday.

Responses (2)

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    Posted by vesalius123 at 11/13/07 13:24:59

    just like the government. they focus their attention on things which are of little danger so the things that should matter go unnoticed.

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by Tatiana at 11/13/07 19:16:38

    I love hemp products but can't eat them too often or I'm afraid I might come up positive on any drugs tests I might have to take, sigh...by the way, hemp seed pesto is awesome

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