By Diane Walsh
America likes to boast its country’s quality of economic competitiveness. It’s an old story. But here’s one for Canada. In terms of industrial hemp laws, the U.S. is far back as the only industrialized nation on the globe failing to recognize the value of industrial hemp and permit its production. Whilst, in this regard, Canada is ahead—legalizing hemp production in 1998, and authorizing the growing of industrial-hemp plants for commercial purposes, after some 50 years of prohibition.
That’s not to say the American hemp industry proponents haven’t been busy—they have. Numerous U.S. states will tout rhetoric that industrial hemp production is allowed. Twenty-nine states have tried to introduce hemp legislation—some successfully. Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia have sought to remove the barriers to hemp research and production. California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia have gone as far as to create state resolutions.
But as activists point out ever so clearly, the fact remains that Federal law, which requires nearly impossible to obtain permits in order to grow hemp trumps any and all state law. And, The US Drug Enforcement Administration is at the centre of the controversy; more on that debate later on.
Back on Canada. On its face, Canada appears progressive, but is not without its own caveats. As a condition of receiving a license to grow industrial hemp, Canadian farmers are required to register the GPS coordinates of their plantations and use certified “low-THC” seed.
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, known THC, is the drug marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical. Characterized low-in-THC, levels for the hemp plant are, generally, less than one percent. Therefore industrial hemp is accepted primarily as an agricultural crop including hurds, seed or seed cake, fibre, or by-products of hemp such as oil. Industrial hemp can be employed in several ways, in vehicle parts, carpets and textiles, housing and building materials, paper, rope, fuel, clothing, food, etc. Due to its high biomass, hemp is one of the preferred-choice biofuels. Ultimately, hemp could alleviate some of our dependence on foreign oil, and allow for the green-growing of fuels “on the farm.” Another fun fact is that one acre of hemp produces as much cellulose fibre pulp as 4.1 acres of trees.
Nevertheless, it’s still a chilly political climate. Canadian farmers must allow government testing of the crop for THC levels and “meet or beat” a 10ppm standard for maximum allowable THC residue in hemp grain products. Despite several bone-twisting hoops, Canada has made growing industrial hemp fully legal and, in this noteworthy and remarkable way, Canada does outstrip the U.S. by solidifying our potential in a future opportunity and growth of this little understood agricultural art.
Even Agriculture Canada (which is the federal department of agriculture) has to admit that, according to recent estimates, more than 100 farmers are growing hemp across our fair nation, with the bulk of the fields in Western and Central Canada.
Now back on the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is at the centre of the debate. With a budget of $2,602,000,000, the DEA is a pumped-arm of the federal government existing “to enforce American drug laws” and situated within the U.S. Department of Justice. According to their website, “they investigate, gather evidence and make arrests of suspects believed to be involved in the growing, manufacture or distribution of controlled substances. The DEA works with the United Nations and Interpol to combat the drug trade around the world.”
Okay, so why did we need to know that? Because their website does not state one of its mandates is to bastardize all efforts to bring about a legal industrial hemp growth economy being able to flourish inside the U.S., but hemp activists have long squealed this is precisely what it’s done in recent decades. Suggesting further, the DEA hasn’t exactly helped with decoupling the thought of the word hemp being associated with a criminal mindset. A bit rich when strictly-speaking the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not make cannabis illegal. It places the strictest of controls on the production of it, making it illegal to grow the crop, without a DEA permit.
Sources note a permit was once issued for a pilot “experimental” plot in Hawaii in the 1990s, but is now expired, and that DEA still has not ruled on an application submitted in 1999 by a North Dakota researcher. Yet the DEA website does not say the DEA is budgeted to interfere with farmers seeking representation to be able to grow industrial hemp.
Hemp industry activists continue to argue the requirements of the DEA for acquiring legal-grow permits have the effect of deterring that very thing. Hence, the net result is all hemp products sold in the U.S. are imported or manufactured from imported hemp materials—as initiating pilot research projects requiring growing plots is costly and, bureaucratically-speaking, unwieldy. Ridiculous.
It’s been an uphill battle at every turn. As late as in the last decade, Drug enforcement officials have tried to argue that hemp shouldn’t be grown because it appears it is marijuana. Today, the DEA no longer has the luxury of being able to say that “hemp is marijuana,” as that premise (nothing but political grand-standing) has been debunked by science. And, for example, by the court case Hemp Industries Association v. Drug Enforcement Administration
“The Appeals Court Rejects DEA Bid to Outlaw Hemp Foods, Feb. 6, 2004” has thrown a spanner in the works of the DEA demonizing all-that-is-hemp. The decision goes on to say, “though the DEA has regulatory authority over marijuana and synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the agency did not follow the law in asserting authority over all hemp food products as well. ‘They cannot regulate naturally-occurring THC not contained within or derived from marijuana,’ the court ruled, noting it’s not possible to get high from products with only trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical. Hemp is an industrial plant related to marijuana. Fibre from the plant long has been used to make paper, clothing, rope and other products. Its oil is found in body-care products such as lotion, soap and cosmetics and in a host of foods, including energy bars, waffles, milk-free cheese, veggie burgers and bread.”
But activists argue a bravado “DEA culture” still persists. The DEA, by not having to change its willful non-understanding of the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp; sources say, it simply refuses to distinguish between different varieties of cannabis.
Piling on, “Hemp is not economic” has been another favourite stance of the DEA. Able to say that their own budgets are strained, the department is seemingly able to credibly resist the public call for discussions around logistics of manufacturing industrial hemp and the economics, which needless to say, requires the DEA “to tread” on areas of expertise of the U.S. department of agriculture, the department of commerce, as well as, having to consult experts in “the free-market.”
Using budget shortfalls (chief excuse for the halt of hemp-production research) resulting in a new resistance on the part of the DEA—this time a resistance to—collaboration with other departments, namely hemp-industry officials. Added to that, their argument, hemp shouldn’t be grown because the market for it is “too speculative” or because the industry needs government subsidy, and it’s a full-blown deadlock. Following this logic, corn should be a prohibited crop, you’d expect!
The stumbling block in the DEA’s modus-operandi has been key legislation. For example, Vote Hemp is a non-profit organization which has helped raise awareness about the benefits of U.S. industrial hemp production. In 2005, a federal bill was introduced designed to alleviate restrictions on cultivation. Re-activated, on Apr. 2, 2009, Republican congressperson, Dr. Ron Paul, for 14th congressional district of Texas, put forth what is known as the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009—along with ten co-sponsors: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Barney Frank (D-MA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Tom McClintock (R-CA), George Miller (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
This bill “died in committee,” in Jan. 2011. But it did have 26 co-sponsors at that time, including Rep. Ron Paul. Hemp industry officials are working on yet another bill planned, later this year.
It’s worth mentioning that the DEA has to appease the anti-marijuana lobby as it is this special-interest group and their related constituencies who advocate in Congress for the agency’s budget, which may in part explain why DEA departmental progress on the industrial-hemp front has been snail-paced. So, with this in mind, to gain supporters in corporations and business groups, lawmakers have tried hard to separate marijuana and hemp by way of petitioning the DEA to reclassify marijuana to exclude industrial hemp and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to the need to promote renewed research into hemp production—even if it’s preliminary information about regulation hemp cultivation.
Also of note, on Aug. 4, 2009, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 676 into law in the Oregon legislature. At the time it was hoped that this would embolden officials against the DEA’s feet-dragging tactics, and re-energize hemp activists defeated in past years by red-tape. As, quite significantly, this law allowed for the production, trade, and possession of industrial hemp commodities and their products. But even with this advance, Oregon growers, now in 2011, are still unable to get on, because they are still required to obtain a permit from the DEA, at a Federal level—which is precisely—where the real block exist.
The state of Washington still classifies hemp as an illegal drug in the same category as marijuana, rather than identifying it as the agricultural crop which is what the whole fight has been about all along.
In light of American farmers losing their shirts in recent years on wheat and corn, it’s doubly troublesome. The power of the DEA is so great that many fear a horrible blow-back that could arise should their support of industrial hemp be exposed publicly.
Count ourselves lucky that the political climate is better in Canada, albeit not perfect.