Skip to main content

Feature: In Act of Civil Disobedience, Hemp Farmers Plant Hemp Seeds at DEA Headquarters

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #604)
Drug War Issues

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to be hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing.

Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine, hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on.

"Who has a permit?" demanded a DEA security official. "A permit -- that's what we want from the DEA," Bronner responded.

After being held a few hours, the Hemp Six were released late Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, two pleaded guilty to trespassing and were fined $240. The others are expecting to face similar treatment.

Although products made with hemp -- everything from foods to fabrics to paper to auto body panels -- are legal in the US, under the DEA's strained interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is considered indistinguishable from marijuana and cannot be planted in the US. According to the hemp industry, it is currently importing about $360 million worth of hemp products each year from countries where hemp production is legal, including Canada, China, and several European nations.

The DEA refused to comment on the action or the issue, referring queries instead to the Department of Justice, which also refused to comment beside pointing reporters to its filings in the ongoing hemp lawsuit.

Currently, eight states -- Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia -- have programs allowing for industrial hemp research or production, but their implementation has been blocked by DEA bureaucratic intransigence. This spring, however, President Obama instructed federal agencies to respect state laws in a presidential directive on federal preemption:

"Executive departments and agencies should be mindful that in our federal system, the citizens of the several States have distinctive circumstances and values, and that in many instances it is appropriate for them to apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect these circumstances and values," said Obama. "As Justice Brandeis explained more than 70 years ago, 'it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'"

police move in (courtesy
The hemp industry and hemp supporters see several paths forward. Farmer Hauge is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challengingly the DEA's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act. That case is now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. US Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are sponsoring a bill that would allow farmers to plant hemp in states where it is permitted, and the industry is urging President Obama and the Justice Department to follow their own example on medical marijuana and leave hemp farmers alone as long as they are legal under state law.

But despite all their efforts, nothing is happening. Tuesday's civil disobedience was designed to begin breaking up the logjam.

"We're getting frustrated," said Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which has been used hemp oil in its soaps since 1999. "This is supposed to be change with Obama, and things aren't changing. We just had the DEA and local DA go nuts on the dispensaries in San Diego where I live. We spent money on a lobbying firm to get a statement from the Justice Department along the lines of Holder's statement on medical marijuana, but nothing is happening. This would be easy to do, but it's not happening. We understand that Obama has a lot going on, but we're getting increasingly disappointed and frustrated. We hope this will help catalyze something in this administration."

"We're like the fired-up hempsters, we're keeping Jack Herer's ideas alive," said Eidinger, still fired up a day after his arrest Tuesday. "We're beginning a new chapter of hemp activism, and there needs to be a lot more of this stuff. Civil disobedience has to be part of a comprehensive campaign in the courts, in Congress, and out on the streets, in front of DEA offices all over the country."

"We've passed a law in Vermont that you can grow industrial hemp," said Allen, the white-haired, pony-tailed proprietor of the certified organic Cedar Circle Farm. "The only barrier now is the DEA, so we're trying to convince them to back off on this like they backed off on enforcing the medical marijuana law in California. Here, we have a crop that isn't going to get anybody high. We grow organic sunflower and canola, and we'd like to have another oil crop in rotation at our location. It just makes economic sense, and it's a states' rights thing. The DEA shouldn't be involved in this; this isn't a drug."

"We want to get some attention for the cause and show the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana," said North Dakota farmer Hauge, who is licensed by the state to grow hemp and who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DEA now before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals. "It's not a drug; it's just another crop that can be grown in rotation. If it wasn't for the DEA, I would be harvesting my crop right now."

Getting himself arrested for hemp activism in Washington, DC, was a totally new experience for Hauge, who is usually hunkered down on a few hundred acres of North Dakota prairie just south of the Canadian border and just east of the Montana state line. "It was definitely a first for me," said Hauge. "I've never even been stopped for anything."

"We need industrial hemp here in the US, we need to bring jobs to this country," said Nichelson, founder, owner, and CEO of Livity Outernational, a California-based fashion and accessory company that mixes art and activism. "I'm sick of making all our stuff in China cause that's the only place I can get the raw materials. We sent the message that there is a clear distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp," Nicholson said. "We need the support of our president and our law enforcement branches. They need to understand that the US is missing out on a giant opportunity. The myth that hemp causes any problems in society has been completely dispelled."

Even DEA underlings -- if not their higher ups -- get it, said Nicholson, recounting his exchange with one agency employee on Monday. "One DEA official came out and said, 'What's the connection between weed and hemp?' and we said, 'Exactly.'"

The action brought some much-needed media attention to the issue, said Eidinger. "We got a really good article in the Washington Post, the Washington Times wrote about it, too, CNN used our video, NPR talked about the action, the Associated Press picked it up, we had a number of TV stations do reports, so we definitely reached a national audience," he recounted. "And North Dakota media has covered this closely; I've been on the phone with all the media in Bismarck."

It wasn't just civil disobedience in front of the cameras. After the HIA convention ended, hempsters headed for Capitol Hill, where dozens of people attended over 20 scheduled meetings with representatives of their staffs to lobby for the Frank-Paul hemp bill. Some unannounced, unscheduled meetings also took place, Eidinger said.

If the hemp movement indeed adopts further civil disobedience actions, it will have added another prong to its multi-prong strategy of pressing for the end of the prohibition on industrial hemp planting in the US. It might be time for other segments of the drug reform movement to start thinking about civil disobedience, too.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

It should be pointed out that the people merely planted sterilized cannabis seeds... it would have been better had they actually violated the CSA and planted seeds capable of germination.

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 11:06am Permalink

This action was about the symbolism. Symbolic shovels, symbolic, non-viable hemp seeds, symbolic arrests. The action still made the point and we don't have various drug charges pending on farmers who need to harvest their crops right now. We are all finished with the courts and can head home to plan the next action. Onwards!

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 11:23am Permalink

While you're here I would like to ask a question.
Will HIA and VoteHemp encourage Native Americans to try again at starting hemp farming on sovereign reservations now that Obama has decided that spending federal money on raiding medical marijuana patients and caregivers in states where it is legal will no longer be federal policy?
It seems to me that this policy should also apply to hemp farming where it is legal as well as on reservations that have tribal council permission.I am wondering if Native Americans will no longer experience the same hassle that Alex White Plume had to endure.

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 5:26pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

But think how much more coverage you'd be getting if you were facing real charges. :)

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 12:09pm Permalink
Legalize (not verified)

This was a beautiful act of disobedience and I only wish I'd been there to plant MARIJUANA seeds alongside them!

Every year thousands of innocent people are murdered by the Mexican drug cartels in order to protect their financial interests. Many of their victims are children, police officers and politicians.

According to the ONDCP two-thirds of the cartel's incomes come from selling marijuana in the U.S. When we legalize the commercial production and sale of marijuana to adults we'll be able to undercut the cartels marijuana prices and eliminate two-thirds of their incomes. No business can survive that!

This is our ONLY option to save the lives of so many innocent people, and every non-smoker in the country should be getting behind it! It is only right for us to do what's necessary to protect those less fortunate than ourselves.

Legalize - Save Lives!!

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 1:18pm Permalink
Jean Boyd (not verified)

You guys are great. If six can create a storm around the issues of growing hemp, imagine what we will all do together. The DEA may look strong and brave, but pale in comparison to the few still thinking. It is getting harder for the 'enforcement' that know the truth. Six against the machine. So cool. The heads of the machine know that if Hemp is OK, then maybe marijuana is OK. They need to keep drug statistics up and include pot in their numbers to get support for the ongoing, losing "Drug War". The war against our own people.

Fri, 10/16/2009 - 3:29pm Permalink
moon hawk-watches (not verified)

... real simple equation: PROHIBITION = ORGANIZED CRIME...

... demonstrated in the US in the 1920s and 1930s:
... the DIRECT result of the Volstead Act was the creation of the twin branches of Organized Crime: the Mafia as we know it today, and J Edgar Hoover's personal GeStaPo, the F.B.I.

... re-affirmed in the US since Nixon's Omnibus Crime Act of 1970:
... the DIRECT result of the Federal bans on Marijuana was the creation of the twin branches of modern Organized Crime: the Caribbean/South American drug cartel, and America's new GeStaPo, the D.E.A.
... will we never learn?

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 3:19am Permalink
RIKI TIKI (not verified)


Sat, 10/17/2009 - 10:28am Permalink
JOHNNYbGOOD (not verified)

Good Job my fellow Americans...LIVE FREE..BE HAPPY...and most of all..PEACE and POT...

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 1:48pm Permalink
spintool (not verified)

People want to grow hemp and marijuana because it is so profitable. It is so profitable because it is illegal and the prohibition against growing it is artificially inflating the price. So if they legalize it, lots of people start growing it, the price drops and it becomes about as equally profitable as wheat or corn. So legalizing the growing of it will not save your farm.

Having said that, it should still be legal.

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 2:52pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by spintool (not verified)

Farmers don't need black market prices to make a living. Farmers need to be able to grow the crops that have a market, but the more the better. Wheat, corn, hemp, poppies, coca, etc., depends on where you live.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Mon, 10/19/2009 - 1:59pm Permalink
disgruntled ve… (not verified)

Prohibition was started by the most successful high ranks of the black market. Politicians and police,etc. involved in the black market have always relied on prohibitions they start and exempt themselves from. Painfully obvious with little or no discussion of just who would profit most from the pain of unjust war/prohibition. Peace

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 3:01pm Permalink

What would George Washington think?

Soldier, statesman, patriot, hemp-farmer,whiskey-distiller, and all-around Honorable Virginia Gentleman.

The U.S. of A. we live in today is NOT George Washington's country. Damn shame considering all those who have died for freedom and a Constitutional republic.

Sat, 10/17/2009 - 7:16pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

A heartfelt "THANK YOU" to those people who were protesting. So many of us can't talk about our support (except very carefully), or risk arrest, because our jobs wouldn't last long. So, thank you for putting your necks on the line for the rest of us.

Sun, 10/18/2009 - 2:24pm Permalink
Brian Criswell (not verified)

It's nice to see someone that can see through the lies and propaganda that the government and the dumb masses out there spread in they're ignorance. Prohibition is not the answer. We are missing out on medicine and goods that can help pull us out of the economic rut that we are in. When will America wake up and support the gifts that nature has bestowed us. Hopefully soon, until then keep spreading the word and someday we will live in world free of the ignorance that our fathers have burdened us with.

Wed, 05/26/2010 - 10:09pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.