DEA Backs Off a Bit on Hemp Foods, Extends "Grace Period" Before Ban for 40 Days 2/8/02

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Acting under the threat of an emergency motion filed by hemp foods industry attorneys to block the DEA's new interpretive rules banning hemp foods from taking effect on Wednesday, the DEA Thursday quietly informed industry representatives that it would extend the "grace period" until the new rules are enforced for forty days. The new rule would bar the sale and consumption of foods made with hemp and hemp oil containing even trace elements of THC, even though the hemp food industry already adheres to internationally recognized standards.

In a letter from the DEA Office of Chief Counsel made available to DRCNet, senior DEA attorney Daniel Dormont advised Hemp Industries Association (HIA) attorney Susan Christian that in response to a question from the court the DEA was extending the grace period. "In view of the court's inquiry," wrote Dormont, "DEA will extend the grace period for an additional 40 days through March 18, 2002. As we discussed, this should allow the court to rule on the motion prior to expiration of the grace period."

"We see this as a victory on several levels," said David Bronner, head of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and chair of the HIA Food and Oil Committee, which is leading the effort to block the ban. "We've already been getting good coverage in the press, and now they'll go nuts," he told DRCNet. "Politically, we hope that congressmen who are sitting on the fence will start to see how ridiculous this is and begin writing to the DEA. That could lead to the agency agreeing to a rule-making process with the industry where we can set realistic standards for trace THC levels," said Bronner. "And legally, this letter implicitly acknowledges that DEA was going to enforce the new rules. This is important because it gives us clear legal standing in filing our emergency motion."

The emergency motion filed by HIA attorneys came on the heels of an earlier motion seeking a temporary stay on enforcement of the new DEA rules. The court had not ruled on the temporary stay by Wednesday, the day the new rules were slated to take effect, but had asked the DEA whether it intended to begin enforcing the new rules, which would effectively remove foods containing hemp and hemp oil from American store shelves. By extending the grace period, the DEA avoided directly addressing the court's question, Bronner noted.

But the agency was clearly moving to enforce the ban, warning Whole Foods, one of the nation's largest hemp food retailers, that absolutely no trace THC would be acceptable. In a letter obtained by DRCNet, Whole Foods' Mary Margaret Graham explained to hemp food suppliers, "After a great deal of effort, WFM [Whole Foods Market] has received clarification from the DEA as to the documentation necessary for us to continue carrying food and nutritional supplements containing hemp. Here's what we need: A statement on your stationery, signed by the president of your company, which states that you attest to the fact that your products contain no amount of THC. There can be no qualifications to this statement, such as 'no detectable,' or a reference to the product or ingredient having been tested to 1 ppm, or that it contains 0.00% THC. You have to be able to say that it has none. We have to have this on file by this afternoon, Tuesday, February 5, at 5 pm EST, or we will have to pull your products from our shelves tomorrow. I apologize for the late notice, but please know we have been diligently trying to get this information from the DEA."

"Now, that's an emergency," said Bronner. "Although we can certify through programs such as Test Pledge (http://www.testpledge.com) that hemp foods contain no more than a certain level of trace residual THC, we cannot certify that no infinitesimal amounts will be there. We filed the emergency motion because hemp foods were being taken off the shelves." Bronner and VoteHemp, an organization with ties to HIA, also marked the occasion with a "hill drop," delivering hemp chips and pretzels and explanatory literature to Congressional offices.

The industry continues to be willing to work with the DEA to set reasonable standards, said Bronner. "What we are looking for is to work with the agency to set realistic trace THC standards such as the Canada Protocols used by Test Pledge. These are standards that protect the public health and safety without imposing an undue burden on a legitimate industry."

And if the DEA won't deal, the legal challenge remains in the works.

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Issue #223, 2/8/02 Editorial: Hate Mongering | DEA Backs Off a Bit on Hemp Foods, Extends "Grace Period" Before Ban for 40 Days | The Bush 2003 Drug Budget: More of the Same, More for Colombia, More for the DEA | DRCNet Interview: Noam Chomsky | Bush Administration Seeks to Widen Colombian Intervention as Human Rights Groups Denounce Abuses | Federal Judge Throws Out Glow Stick, Pacifier Ban in New Orleans Rave Case | Cincinnati Again Asks Federal Courts to Revive Drug Exclusion Zone | Backlash Emerges as Texas Drug Task Forces Run Amok | Seismic Shift in Sentencing Policies Underway: Declining Crime Rates, Budget Woes Cited | Media Scan: Alan Bock, Arianna Huffington, Foreign Policy in Focus, ABC News on Hemp Foods | Alerts: HEA Drug Provision, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana | The Reformer's Calendar
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