In Bismarck, US District Court Judge Daniel Hovland Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by two would-be North Dakota hemp farmers seeking to end the DEA's ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States. Controlling opinions in the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals find that the federal Controlled Substances Act includes industrial hemp within the definition of marijuana, thus leaving hemp under the jurisdiction of the drug agency, Hovland wrote in his 22-page decision.
Backed by a state law permitting industrial hemp production and a friendly state Department of Agriculture, farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, the latter also a Republican state legislator, applied for licenses from the DEA to grow hemp. When the DEA failed to act on their applications, they sued in federal court.
Attorneys for the farmers said they are considering whether to appeal the decision. Among possible grounds would be the court's finding, following the DEA, that hemp and marijuana are the same thing.
While recognizing that industrial hemp could be a valuable commercial crop for North Dakota and that the farmers are unlikely to ever get DEA approval of their applications, Hovland wrote that the issue is one best resolved by Congress.
"The policy arguments raised by the plaintiffs are best suited for Congress rather than a federal courtroom in North Dakota," wrote Hovland, noting that a bill -- the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 -- had been introduced to address the issue. "Whether efforts to amend the law will prevail, and whether North Dakota farmers will be permitted to grow industrial hemp in the future, are issues that should ultimately rest in the hands of Congress rather than in the hands of a federal judge."
"Obviously we are disappointed with the decision," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a grassroots group working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the US. "The court's decision shows it understands that the established and growing market for industrial hemp would be beneficial for North Dakota farmers to supply. Yet the decision overlooks Congress's original intent -- and the fact that farmers continued to grow hemp in the US for twenty years after marijuana was banned. If the plaintiffs decide to appeal the case, we would wholeheartedly support that effort. We are not giving up and will take this decision to Washington, DC to prompt action by Congress on HR 1009, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, which would clarify a state's right to grow the crop," added Steenstra.
While the farmers lost their case, it has apparently prompted the DEA to finally act on an eight-year-old application from North Dakota State University to conduct research on industrial hemp. During oral arguments in the case two weeks ago in Bismarck, the DEA's failure to act on the university's application came under discussion as the court weighed the likelihood of the agency ever responding to the farmers. Now, the DEA has sent a "Memorandum of Agreement" to the university which, if signed by the school, would clear the way for research to get underway.
"It seems our arguments about the DEA's delay in processing NDSU's application have resulted in the agency finally taking positive action to allow research," noted David Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a manufacturer of soap and other body care products using hemp oil imported from Canada.
But that's small solace for hemp advocates and North Dakota farmers in the face of a federal court system that has so far been unable to apply common sense to the hemp question.