Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps CEO arrested in hemp protest

June 11, 2012

David Bronner locked himself in a metal cage Monday outside the White House with a stash of hemp plants and equipment, hoping to make enough hemp oil to spread on a piece of French bread.

Bronner, CEO and president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, never got to finish the oil-pressing process or to have his usual breakfast.

Metro police and the D.C. fire department used a chainsaw to cut open the steel cage door and arrest him. Bronner was charged with possession of marijuana and blocking passage.

Bronner, whose California-based company uses hemp oil in its soap products, pleaded with President Obama — via microphone — to allow hemp harvesting in the U. S.

Bronner was moved to protest after a recent 28,000-signature petition asking for hemp legalization didn’t get the response he wanted, according to Bronner spokesman Ryan Fletcher.

The protest began at 8 a.m. when Bronner and his caged trailer was dropped off on H Street next to Lafayette Square. Park police and Secret Service agents joined D.C. police and fire officials, who worked for a couple of hours to open the cage.

Bronner had designed the trailer so it could not easily be broken into or towed away by police, said Fletcher.

Atop the trailer was a sign that read “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT. LET U.S. FARMERS GROW HEMP!”

Bronner’s actions also prompted police to shut down traffic around 16th and H streets at about 10:30 a.m.

U.S. drug law defines hemp as a controlled substance, the same as marijuana, making the plants inside Bronner’s trailer illegal. Live hemp seeds may not be imported into the country, and hemp may not be grown. However, hemp food, textiles and other products may be imported or produced in the U.S. from non-living hemp material.

Bronner claims that lab tests confirm the THC levels in his hemp plants is less than .3 percent, the international standard for industrial hemp. THC is the main active chemical in marijuana.

“We import roughly $100,000 dollars a year of hemp oil from Canada,” said Fletcher.

“He’s doing this action in part because he wants to be able to source that hemp oil from American farmers, rather than exporting his dollars to Canada.”

Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced a measure that would label hemp as an agricultural crop. The amendment was backed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

Monday’s protest was not Bronner’s first action in favor of hemp cultivation in the U.S. In 2009, Bronner gathered with activists to plant hemp seeds on the front lawn of Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitors Center in Arlington. The protesters, including Bronner, were arrested and charged with trespassing.

David Bronner’s grandfather, E.H.Bronner, founded Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap in 1948. The company produces some of the top-selling organic soaps in the country.

David Montgomery contributed to this story.

Margaret Ely is a producer and reporter for Local Living and Weekend. Previously, she was an intern for the Post’s Metro section.
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