Like the Man of La Mancha, only tilting at hemp stalks instead of windmills, the US Justice Department has struck once again at Alex White Plume, a Lakota hemp grower on the Oglala Sioux Nation's Pine Ridge Reservation in stark western South Dakota. For the last three years, White Plume and others have planted hemp crops in defiance of federal law, but in compliance with the laws of the Oglala Sioux Nation, which has asserted the right as a sovereign nation to decide what crops could be grown on its land. In 2000 and 2001, White Plume's crop was destroyed by armed state and federal agents, but this year White Plume beat them to the punch, harvesting ahead of schedule in late July (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/249.html#lakotahemp).
On August 9, the feds struck back. Western South Dakota Assistant US Attorney Mark Vargo filed a petition in federal civil court in Rapid City asking for a temporary restraining order and ultimately a permanent injunction barring White Plume, his son Percy, and "their agents, servants, assigns, attorneys, and all others acting in concert with the named Defendant" from growing industrial hemp -- an enterprise it described as the "ongoing manufacture, possession and distribution of marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, and possession of marijuana with the intent to manufacture and distribute the substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec.841(a)(1); and defendants Alexander 'Alex' White Plume, Percy White Plume and all those acting in concert with those named Defendants' ongoing conspiracy to violate the Act, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 846."
The temporary restraining order was granted Tuesday, and the White Plumes will appear to argue their case in federal court on October 1st. The move already spoiled the White Plume's Thursday harvest celebration and delivery of contracted hemp to the Madison Hemp and Flex Company of Lexington, KY, on the Pine Ridge. But the fight will go on, said South Dakota Industrial Hemp Council (http://www.sodakhemp.org) director Bob Newland. "We have three days to present evidence, and we will be bringing in experts to argue that industrial hemp is a legal crop," he told DRCNet.
While some observers initially viewed the move as a possible retreat by the feds, the US Attorney's choice of civil proceedings over criminal charges may be a means of attempting to effectively shut down the White Plumes' hemp operation without suffering the political fallout attendant to trying to throw a Native American traditionalist in federal prison for ten years for growing a crop grown around the world.
It is also an issue on the ballot in South Dakota this year in the form of Initiative Measure One, the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Act, a model of brevity which asks voters to vote on the following proposition, reproduced here in its entirety: "Any person may plant, cultivate, harvest, possess, process, transport, sell, or buy industrial hemp (cannabis) or any of its by-products with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level of one percent or less."
"The government is seeking injunctive relief because it's quick and efficient," wrote Paul Grant, an attorney for the Colorado Hemp Industry Project (http://www.levellers.org/cohip/). "The judge decides whether to issue the injunctions and is not likely to 'nullify.' Assume the injunctions will issue," Grant explained. Once the injunctions are issued, he argued, any further hemp growing activities would violate the injunctions and become contempt of court. A judge could then punish the White Plumes with up to six months in prison without further review, Grant argued. "Pretty neat, huh! No grand jury indictments, no jury trial, just proceedings before a judge."
"It's obvious that the government is taking this new tack because they don't want any citizen review boards sitting in judgment on their actions," said Newland. "It's what they did in California with the medical marijuana and you can see it in their motion, with all the references to the Oakland Cannabis Co-op case," he told DRCNet. Another South Dakota initiative would affirm the right of jury members to nullify laws to which they are morally opposed.
Still, the harvest celebration went off as scheduled, minus the hemp delivery, which was barred by the temporary restraining order issued Tuesday. "There were about 50 people, mainly from the rez, but also from Madison Hemp, and some Europeans who were filming it all," said Newland. "There was a nice little ceremony, and then about ten of us went off and harvested hemp in violation of the order for the cameras. Alex used a wooden hemp break to break the stalks to free the fiber, then used a hemp comb to pull out some fiber," he continued. "It fell on the ground, but the kids picked it up and quickly braided it into a bracelet."
The US Attorney's petition for the temporary restraining order and permanent injunction make interesting reading and are available at http://www.sodakhemp.org/summons.htm online.