Farmers Ask Federal Court To Dissociate Hemp and Pot

Outside the United States, hemp is grown and sold regularly. Because of its relationship to marijuana, however, federal approval is needed here.
Outside the United States, hemp is grown and sold regularly. Because of its relationship to marijuana, however, federal approval is needed here. (Hempline Inc.)

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

Wayne Hauge grows grains, chickpeas and some lentils on 2,000 acres in northern North Dakota. Business is up and down, as the farming trade tends to be, and he is always on the lookout for a new crop. He tried sunflowers and safflowers and black beans. Now he has set his sights on hemp.

Hemp, a strait-laced cousin of marijuana, is an ingredient in products from fabric and food to carpet backing and car door panels. Farmers in 30 countries grow it. But it is illegal to cultivate the plant in the United States without federal approval, to the frustration of Hauge and many boosters of North Dakota agriculture.

On Wednesday, Hauge and David C. Monson, a fellow aspiring hemp farmer, will ask a federal judge in Bismarck to force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers.

"I'm looking forward to the court battle," said Hauge, a 49-year-old father of three. "I don't know why the DEA is so afraid of this."

The law is the law and it treats all varieties of Cannabis sativa L. the same, Bush administration lawyers argue in asking U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland to throw out the case. The DEA says a review of the farmers' applications is underway.

To clear up the popular confusion about the properties of what is sometimes called industrial hemp, the crop's prospective purveyors explain that hemp and smokable marijuana share a genus and a species but are about as similar as rope and dope.

The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. While hemp typically contains 0.3 percent THC, the leaves and flowers coveted by pot smokers have 5 percent or more, sometimes up to 30 percent.

"You could smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole," Hague said of hemp, "and it's not going to provide you with a high."

Experts on the subject say a headache is far more likely than a buzz.

In the small town of Ray, N.D., Hauge said people -- his friends, mostly -- make cracks.

"Usually it's something about whether or not the DEA is going to arrest me or if my phone is being tapped," Hauge said. "It's kind of difficult to provoke me. I'm also a CPA, and I have had a tax practice in Ray for 25 years. I was an EMT for 18 years. And I'm not a person who smokes. I don't smoke anything. I exercise a lot and I'm pretty healthy."

David Bronner is a vegan California businessman who uses hemp oil to make his Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap richer and smoother. He touts hemp milk as a challenger to soy and adds hemp seeds, full of Omega-3 fatty acids, to a snack bar called Alpsnack.


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