|Week Online: The DEA's
new final rule on hemp foods is set to go into effect on Monday.
What would happen to the US hemp industry if this rule stands?
David Bronner: The
effect would be drastic and dramatically bad. We don't see the DEA
arresting people for having chips made with hemp seed oil, but we do anticipate
the DEA attempting to shut down companies one by one as it applies its
analytical protocols to different products that contain infinitesimal traces
of THC. It is also likely that US Customs will make hemp oil seizures
at the border, thus preventing US manufacturers from obtaining the raw
materials they need.
This will even affect companies
like Dr. Bronner's, which does not manufacture hemp foods. The DEA
has exempted shampoos, soaps and other cosmetics, but we will still have
to reformulate our products because we won't be able to import the hemp
oil we need. The DEA is being tricky here; on the one hand, it exempts
our products; on the other hand, it stops the ingredients we need at the
border. We will take a significant financial hit. It is not
just the US hemp industry that will be affected. Many Canadian hemp
growers and manufacturers do more than half their business with US clients
and retail outlets, and they too will suffer.
WOL: What is the hemp
industry doing to avoid this?
Bronner: We were able
to get a Stay to block the implementation of the DEA's interim "interpretive
rule" in 2001, and we've filed an urgent motion to Stay the implementation
of this "final rule." The DEA responded to our motion last week,
and we have to file a reply to the DEA today (Monday). We were able
to get a Stay on the "interpretive rule," so we are confident we can get
the court to grant a Stay this time. If that doesn't happen, we will
appeal to the US 9th Circuit en banc to overrule this panel. And
if that doesn't happen, we could well go broke before we have a chance
to win in court.
But our effort consists of
more than just legal maneuvering. We are attempting to educate the
press -- and it has been difficult because the DEA chose a time when the
bombs were falling on Iraq to announce its "final rule" -- so there has
pretty much been a media blackout on the issue. Also, the press is,
frankly, a little confused by the different rules and bureaucratic games.
So we are attempting to gain some press attention with another round of
DEA hemp food taste tests like we did in December 2001. We will be
at DEA buildings around the country on Monday handing out hemp foods to
DEA employees, talking up the virtues of omega-3 in hemp oil as a nutritional
We will also have poppy seed
bagels and orange juice on hand to point out the absurdity of this rule.
The bagels contain traces of opiates and the orange juice contains alcohol
traces, and the government has no problem with that, but under these rules,
any amount of product with detectable traces of THC is a Schedule 1 controlled
substance. And what's worse is that the federal guidelines include
carrying weight, so that a one-pound bag of hemp oil-based chips becomes
one pound of THC, much like how they would include the weight of the sugar
cube in calculating the amount of LSD.
But it gets even more ludicrous.
Under the DEA's conversion scheme, one pound of THC equals 167 pounds of
marijuana. So a pallet of hemp oil-based potato chips in a food warehouse
suddenly becomes the equivalent of thousands of pounds of marijuana.
Overnight, hemp food manufacturers become drug kingpins facing multiple
We are also working on Congress.
Now isn't a very good time for that, but we have been getting letters in,
and we are working to set up meetings next week on the Hill. Congress
tends to defer to the courts on this, so if we win the Stay, that will
be a powerful message to legislators. A successful Stay is also a
good indication that we will win in the end, and that could really open
things up. If that turns out to be the case, the DEA's credibility
on hemp will take a big hit in the eyes of Congress. The DEA has
been really aggressive in pushing its new rules and countering our lobbying
efforts. If they lose on this, we will be much, much closer to legal
hemp in this country.
WOL: Why do the DEA
and the US government take such a hard line on hemp?
Bronner: The original
justification was because it potentially interfered with drug testing;
the argument was that hemp oil-based foods would provide false positive
results. But that is really a bogus issue at this point. Through
strict regulations in Canada and our own Test Pledge program (http://www.testpledge.com),
we have solved the problem of false positives. It's not really an
issue anymore, but it is interesting to compare the government's response
to hemp oil foods with its response to poppy seed bagels. On the
poppies, the government actually raised the drug testing threshold on urine
tests to accommodate the opium resin in poppy seeds. But we solved
the testing problem on our own, and the government ignores it. For
the DEA, anything related to cannabis is part of a culture war and they
must fight it. They can't handle the truth that industrial hemp cannabis
would have great economic and ecological potential. That would threaten
their entire propaganda campaign, that cannabis is a plant with roots in
hell and no redeeming value. That's wrongheaded, that's crazy.
WOL: How does US policy
toward hemp production and hemp products compare with other countries?
Bronner: Our policies
are absolutely backward and horrible. Pretty much every other modern
industrialized country recognizes the difference between industrial hemp,
which is non-psychoactive and bred for fiber, and smokeable cannabis.
It's like the difference between a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard. Both
are members of the same family, but it is impossible to confuse the two.
In Europe, Canada, China, Australia and New Zealand, industrial hemp is
grown under a straightforward regulatory regime. It's not a problem.
No one tries to smoke it. And police in those countries seem to be
able to tell the difference. On the issue, the US is pretty much
isolated, a lone island of ignorance.
But we could train even US
police to tell the difference. Hemp grows tall and thin, with about
100 stalks per square foot. Marijuana grows squat and bushy, with
about one plant per square foot. As my uncle says, it's simple: "Look
up, that's hemp; look down, that's pot." And, of course, while police
here argue that hemp fields could hide marijuana grows, that's absurd.
With regulated hemp fields subject to inspection, with GPS coordinates
and random visits like in Canada, and with the fear of cross-pollination,
a hemp field is the last place someone would choose to grow marijuana.
WOL: Although the US
hemp industry is under attack, it is a legitimate business in the US.
How does the industry organize to protect its interests?
Bronner: We have the
Hemp Industries Association (HIA), which is basically our trade organization.
It is an umbrella group for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, legislators
and activists. Our lobbying arm is Vote Hemp (http://www.VoteHemp.com),
and the two groups work very closely together. This is an industry
that had about $250 million in global sales last year, with about $150
million of it in the US. Here in the US, about $90 million of that
is for hemp fiber, twine and jewelry, with a rapidly growing market in
auto parts where hemp fiber is replacing fiberglass. We think this
is really going to take off. It was pioneered by the Germans, but
is now being used by Ford here in this country.
Hemp oil-based shampoos,
soaps, cosmetics, and the like -- companies like the Body Shop and Dr.
Bronner's -- account for maybe another $40 million in sales, and hemp oil-based
foods account for maybe $6-10 million per year. But that figure should
be ten times bigger. There are many, many people interested in the
nutritional value of hemp foods, but all are holding off until the regulatory
situation is cleared up. This market is severely stunted now and
until we get the DEA out of our business.