In the latest move in the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) quixotic crusade against cannabis in any form, the agency has published administrative rules that effectively ban the consumption of food products containing hemp oil, hemp seed, or any other product containing any quantity of THC -- no matter how miniscule. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but is found in only low concentrations in cannabis plants bred to produce hemp. A common formulation for gauging the consciousness-altering capacity of hemp is "you'd have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high."
In announcing the rules, DEA chief Asa Hutchinson explained that "many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana."
In its press release, the agency clarified further: "While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, have been found to contain THC. The existence of THC in hemp is significant because THC, like marijuana, is a schedule I controlled substance. Federal law prohibits human consumption and possession of schedule I controlled substances. In addition, they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use. The rules that DEA is publishing today explain which hemp products are legal and which are not. This will depend on whether the product causes THC to enter the human body. If the product does cause THC to enter the human body, it is an illegal substance that may not be manufactured, sold, or consumed in the United States. Such products include 'hemp' foods and beverages that contain THC. If, however, the product does not cause THC to enter the human body, it is a non-controlled substance that may lawfully be sold in the United States. Included in the category of lawful hemp products are textiles, such as clothing made using fiber produced from cannabis plant stalks. Also in the lawful category are personal care products that contain oil from sterilized cannabis seeds, such as soaps, lotions, and shampoos."
The DEA helpfully listed the kinds of hemp products that are now banned: beer, cheese, coffee, corn chips, energy drink, flour, ice cream, snack bars, salad oil, soda, veggie burgers.
The agency is granting a grace period for merchants and producers stuck with what is now potentially felonious inventory. "As set forth in the rules, any person who currently possesses illegal THC-containing 'hemp' products will have 120 days (until February 6, 2002) to dispose of such products or remove them from the United States. However, during this grace period, no person may manufacture or distribute any such product for human consumption within the United States," the agency explained.
"Oh, my goodness, I didn't know that," said Rose Phillips, the owner of Hemptown Rock, a full-line hemp products store in San Marcos, TX. "This will affect me," she told DRCNet. "I have shampoos, creams, lotions, soaps, and I have cancer and AIDS patients using hemp seed oil. This will hurt people with medicinal needs," she said.
The rules "will be devastating," said the owner of an East Coast hemp foods store and restaurant who declined to be named. "I don't want it known I know the regulations have been published," he told DRCNet.
The new administrative rules have been coming down the pike for months, and the hemp industry waged an energetic but ultimately fruitless battle to sway the DEA. The anti-drug agency had also expressed concerns that hemp-based foods would interfere with widespread drug-testing programs, and the industry responded with its Test Pledge program (http://www.testpledge.com). Under the program, companies promised to test each batch of hemp seed or hemp oil to ensure that its THC levels remained low enough to prevent positive results for marijuana in drug tests.
The industry also attempted to persuade the DEA with science, but the agency remained immune. In a study jointly commissioned by the Canadian government and the hemp industry last year, researchers found that "a conflict between hemp food consumption and workplace drug testing is most unlikely" if THC levels common in hemp-based foods are used and if the tests follow federal guidelines.
According to an alert sent out by David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and chair of the Hemp Industries Association (http://www.thehia.org) Food and Oil Committee, representatives of the association are meeting with their lawyers in Washington this week. Bronner wrote that the HIA would seek a temporary restraining order to stop the regulations from taking effect.
Bronner also urged that people engage in civil disobedience by ordering lots of delicious, nutritious hemp goodies from the Test Pledge companies, a roster that now includes 21 businesses, from the Cool Hemp Company ("Christina's Hemp Cookies") to Canadian grower and processor Kenex ("Virgin Emerald Hemp Oil").
Hemptown Rock's Rose Phillips exhibited some of the same defiant attitude. "I will continue to sell until someone walks in my store and makes me stop," she said. "This will make people really angry," she said. "There are a lot of things the government needs to be doing right now, and worrying about whether someone has a hemp seed inside him isn't one of them."
Phillips paused, then added, "My mother has skin cancer, and hemp oil lotions have improved her skin. If they're trying to tell me that giving her hemp oil to help her condition is now illegal, well tough. Go ahead and throw me in jail."
But, she added, in the meantime she will be consulting her attorney.
(The DEA press release, as well as links to the rules as published in the Federal Register on October 9, are available at http://www.dea.gov/advisories.html online.)