Save Hemp

Coalition to Save Hemp

The Problem

The problem
In March 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued final versions of rules that would ban many hemp products in the United States as of April 21, 2003.

It is illegal to grow hemp in the U.S., but raw hemp and hemp products can be imported. Before the DEA’s new rule, it was considered settled law that imported hemp products were perfectly legal to possess, use, or sell.

Hemp foods and personal care products have proliferated in recent years. Because they contain trace amounts of naturally occurring tetrahydrocannabinol (THC the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), the DEA now claims that use of these products is “confounding our federal drug control testing program” by causing individuals to test positive for marijuana, even if they are not using the drug. So the DEA has decided to treat hemp and hemp products just like marijuana, placing them in Schedule I, the category that federal law reserves for the most dangerous drugs. This would give hemp products the same legal status as marijuana, LSD, and heroin.

In short, the DEA wants to remove the legal distinction between hemp and marijuana.

DEA contradicts Congress

In 2000, the DEA formally asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) if current law allowed a ban on hemp products intended for human consumption. The DOJ responded that this was not possible under current law (see DOJ letter).

This meant that in order to ban hemp products, Congress would need to change the law. But instead of going through the legislative process, the DEA now claims that the law has simply been misunderstood for over 30 years, and that Congress had always intended to treat all hemp products — including paper, clothing, birdseed, and shampoo — as dangerous drugs, equivalent to LSD and heroin. In the DEA’s twisted logic, everyone who fed hemp birdseed to their pet birds, ate a hemp candy bar, or used hemp paper or body care products during the past 30 years should have been subjected to up to one year imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for the first offense.

Natural vs. synthetic THC
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) contains a clear, specific definition of marijuana — one that expressly excludes the parts of the marijuana plant that are used in the products the DEA now says Congress meant to ban. The DEA bases its argument about congressional intent on the claim that a different part of the CSA, which lists THC as a Schedule I drug, applies to both natural and synthetic forms of THC. But, as the DOJ letter shows, it had long been understood that this CSA reference to THC dealt only with synthetic forms, and that natural THC was covered under the provisions for marijuana — the provisions that exclude hemp products. This makes sense, since marijuana is the only natural source of THC.

The DEA’s interpretation makes this entire definition pointless, violating a primary rule of statutory interpretation: Every word of a law should be treated as having meaning. The DEA’s method renders meaningless an entire section of the CSA.

To reinforce its new interpretation, the DEA has proposed a new rule that states that when the law refers to THC, it means both natural and synthetic forms.

Edible hemp products would be illegal
The new DEA rules will ban all hemp items intended for human consumption, including finished hemp products and hemp ingredients. This means that no hemp foods or hemp-based ingredients or nutritional supplements will be allowed in the United States, and it will be a federal crime to sell or possess any product containing hemp.

Hemp-based personal care products would be in danger
The new rules would leave unclear the status of hemp-based shampoos, soaps, lotions and other cosmetic products, but still threaten to destroy the industry. Essentially, the DEA’s stance amounts to a declaration that these products are produced or consumed at your own risk.

The DEA claims that it has the power to prosecute manufacturers or consumers of hemp cosmetic products as if they were distributing or ingesting cocaine or heroin. The new rules would put the burden of proof on the citizen or the manufacturer rather than on the government. The DEA says it ³assumes² such products do not cause THC to enter the body, but has reserved the right to change its mind at any time. The only way to be sure of escaping criminal sanctions will be to apply for a formal exemption. That will require ³rigorous scientific evidence, including well-documented scientific studies by experts trained and qualified to evaluate the effects of drugs on humans,² showing either that the product contains absolutely no THC or that use of the product does not cause any THC whatsoever to ³enter the human body.² The risks involved — and the extreme burden of proof required — could effectively stop the sale and purchase of hemp personal care products in the United States.

Divide and conquer
Although the DEA claims that Congress intended to ban all hemp products, the DEA contradicts itself by exempting some of those products, including clothing, animal feed mixtures, paper, and rope.

This tactic allows the DEA to get around some of the most ludicrous implications of its theory of congressional intent (e.g., that Congress intended people to be imprisoned for owning hemp twine), while simultaneously reducing the number of hemp-related industries immediately affected by the new rules. It is a clever ploy to lessen opposition.

The DEA’s “divide and conquer” strategy is also apparent in the agency’s discussion of hemp personal care products. In its press release on the new rules, the DEA listed body care products as being “in the lawful category,” a statement that seems designed to give manufacturers and consumers a false sense of security. The language of the DEA’s rule makes it absolutely clear that such products would only be considered legal if they do not cause a single molecule of THC to “enter the human body” with the burden of proof on the manufacturer to show that this is the case.

The DEA’s new rules will eliminate jobs, destroy businesses, and deny Americans access to a versatile, natural product. Please act now to help end the DEA’s drug war-induced hysteria against harmless and beneficial hemp products.

Comments are closed.