DEA Tries To Kill North American Hemp Industry

Date: Fri, 08 Oct 1999
Subject: DEA Tries To Kill North American Hemp Industry

DrugSense FOCUS Alert, #130, Fri, 08 Oct 1999

U.S. farmers have been prohibited from growing industrial hemp for
decades, ever since marijuana was outlawed. In that time Americans have
still used hemp products but they have been forced to import hemp from
other countries. One hemp product that has been imported is hemp seed,
which is used as bird food, and to produce other goods, like hemp seed

While the American government has been too dumb to see how American
farmers are being hurt by these polices, the Canadian government has
taken a more enlightened position by issuing permits to some farmers to
grow the crop. The Canadian farmers were just about to reap the
benefits and illustrate idiocy of the U.S. position, when, suddenly,
the DEA confiscated a huge shipment of Canadian hemp seed before it
crossed into the U.S.

This action is a crushing blow to the hemp industry, and it is a
blatant violation of the law. The hemp industry explains the situation
further at

The issue has raised some media attention, like the article from the
New York Times below. Please write a letter to the Times and/or other
papers that have carried to story to protest this absurd and illegal

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Source: New York Times (NY)


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Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 1999 The New York Times Company
Author: Christopher S. Wren
MAP: Topical News Shortcut:


What do 40,000 pounds of birdseed have in common with America’s war on
drugs? Nothing, says Jean Laprise, an Ontario farmer who shipped the
birdseed to his American customers only to have it seized when it
crossed the U.S.-Canadian border.

Everything, say the U.S. government and its critics, but for altogether
different reasons.

The birdseed, nearly 20 tons of it, has been locked in a Detroit
warehouse since Aug. 9, when it was impounded by the United States
Customs Service. The reason: the seed consists of sterilized seeds
processed from industrial hemp.

Laprise has found himself mired in one of the more bizarre episodes of
Washington’s campaign to curb illicit drug use. Hemp and marijuana are
different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, though
the government rarely distinguishes between them.

“They say it’s a tractor trailer full of drugs,” Laprise said. “We say
it’s a tractor trailer full of birdseed.”

But while smoking marijuana delivers a psychoactive high, smoking hemp
gives only a headache. Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the
psychoactive component in marijuana, usually varies between 4 and 20
percent of a leaf. Industrial hemp has a THC below 1 percent.

The birdseed seized in Detroit had a THC content of barely .0014
percent, which wouldn’t give a bird a buzz.

John Roulac, the president of Nutiva, a company in Sebastapol, Calif.,
that buys hemp seeds from Laprise’s operation for food products, said
that seeds themselves have no THC, and whatever gets detected comes
from contact with leaves of the hemp plant.

Roulac said the amount of THC was “like an olive pit in a railroad

Laprise, whose company, Kenex Ltd., grows and processes hemp with the
approval of the Canadian government, said that “all of our other
products have no detectable level of THC. The only shipment with any
detectable amount was the birdseed, and it was really nothing.”

Though the U.S. government today views hemp with suspicion, it was
historically an agricultural staple used in everything from ropes and
sails to clothing and the first American flag supposedly sewn by Betsy
Ross. It has been virtually illegal since 1937.

Last year, Canada declared hemp a legitimate crop and has granted
growers’ licenses for 35,000 acres. Britain, France and Germany also
have commercial hemp industries. Hawaii, North Dakota and Minnesota
passed laws approving hemp this year as a crop for hard-pressed farmers.

Kenex’s customers, who snap up Laprise’s hemp seeds and fibers for
everything from food for animals and people to beauty products and
horse bedding, have been outraged by the seizure in Detroit.

“What in the heck are they doing arresting birdseed?” said Anita
Roddick, the British founder of the Body Shop, whose organic hair- and
skin-care products have used hemp oil produced by Laprise.

“It’s so Monty Pythonesque,” Ms. Roddick said, alluding to the antic
comedians who mocked life’s absurdities. “They’re chasing around bloody
birdseed. It’s making the D.E.A. look stupid.”

Federal law enforcement officials defended the seizure. D.E.A.
spokesman Terry Parham said, “Our understanding is there is no legal
way for hemp seed to have come in that contains any quantity of THC.”
He explained that no product containing THC could be imported except by
a company registered with the D.E.A., and that no companies are

Drug-policy critics like Ethan Nadelmann, the president of the
Lindesmith Center, a New York group that advocates a more liberal drug
policy, reacted to the birdseed seizure with glee, contending that it
shows how dumb the war on drugs can get.

Laprise said the Customs Service also ordered him to recall his earlier
exports to the United States of hemp oil, horse bedding, animal feed
and granola bars, or face more than $500,000 in fines. He cannot
comply, he said, because the products have been used or consumed.

Meanwhile, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture assessing the
potential of hemp growing has made the rounds of the federal
government. The report’s beige cover is stamped “Classified.”

“I can’t figure out why they classified this,” said a government
official who let a reporter take a peek. The study said there was a
limited niche market for hemp products, like Laprise’s birdseed.



Observing the absurdities of drug law enforcement can sometimes be
darkly amusing, like watching a cartoon filled with black humor. Of
course, it is tragic that real people are hurt, like the hemp
businesses on the verge of bankruptcy thanks to the whims of the Drug
Enforcement Agency (“Bird Food Is a Casualty of the U.S. War on Drugs,”
Oct. 3).

The DEA appears to be suffering from Wile E. Coyote Syndrome (the
uncontrollable desire to destroy innocent creatures through the use of
birdseed). I can only hope the officials responsible for this travesty
suddenly find their careers plummeting into a deep ravine, leaving no
trace but a small puff of dust.

Stephen Young

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