HIA sues the DEA: ‘Stop treating hemp as something illicit’

HIA sues DEA: ‘The DEA must stop treating hemp as something illicit’

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) has filed a motion to hold the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in contempt of court for disregarding a 2004 ruling that hemp fiber, stalk, sterilized seed and oil are specifically exempted from the definition of ‘marijuana.’

In a show cause order filed on February 6 at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the HIA alleges that the DEA violated “an unchallenged, long-standing order issued by the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco, prohibiting the agency from regulating hemp food products as a Schedule I controlled substance,” the association said in a press release. (You can read the full motion HERE.)

“We will not stand idly by while the DEA flouts the will of Congress, violates the Ninth Circuit order, and harasses honest hemp producers trying to make a living with this in-demand crop,” said Colleen Keahey, executive director of the HIA.

“Hemp is a healthy superfood with vital nutrients such as Omegas 3 and 6, protein, fiber and all 10 essential amino acids that are ideal for today’s family,” she added. "The DEA must stop treating hemp, hempseed and hempseed oil, which is a nutritious ingredient, as something illicit. We have to address the challenges that thwart the domestic industry’s progress and especially those that mislead state Departments of Agriculture and limit entry of legal hemp products into the marketplace.”

Like heroin and ecstasy, hemp is currently a Schedule I controlled substance

Industrial hemp – a safe and legal food ingredient permitted in the US market - is not the same as marijuana, and it won’t get you high. Confusion arises because hemp comes from Cannabis sativa, the same plant species as marijuana, but contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that delivers the ‘high’.

Though the HIA has long advocated for fewer barriers to hemp cultivation in the US, the current stir started in December 2016 when North Dakota-based Healthy Oilseeds LLC was notified by the DEA and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) that shipment of its hemp protein powder and hempseed oil food items was prohibited “because industrial hemp is a Schedule I controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”

North Dakota is one of the 28 states that may grow hemp under the Congress' Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), but whether or not it is legal to ship and transport it between states is still murky waters. However, HIA said in the petition that the DEA’s 2001 interpretive rule of regulating hemp (“any product that contains any amount of THC is a schedule I controlled substance”) was published “with no opportunity for notice and comment.”

Subsequently, the association said that a 2004 ruling made by the Ninth Circuit found that the DEA’s 2001 guidance had not followed necessary scheduling procedures to add non-psychoactive hemp to the list of Schedule I controlled substances.

Petitioners from hemp food and beverage to personal care companies

“This petition has the support of numerous hemp brands and HIA member companies like Dr. Bronner's and Nutiva,” a spokesperson for HIA told FoodNavigator-USA.

The US is the world’s largest consumer of hemp products, whether in food and beverage, textiles, or personal care. However, manufacturers mostly have to outsource the plant because of regulatory barriers, though a recent HIA report showed that these barriers are slowly coming down.

But it’s been an uphill battle for the association. Joe Sandler, HIA’s lead counsel, said: “Thirteen years ago DEA was told in no uncertain terms by the U.S. Court of Appeals that Congress had made its intent clear: DEA has no power to regulate hemp seed and oil, and the hemp food and beverage products made from them.  It is disappointing that the industry has to revisit the issue, and take this step to compel DEA to obey the law.”

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