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North Dakota farmers to appeal hemp rights at federal court

By Clarisse Douaud , 13-Dec-2007

Two North Dakota farmers who had their commercial hemp farming case dismissed are now appealing the decision with the federal court, further battling for the protein crop's right to grow.

Dave Monson and Wayne Hague filed a lawsuit in June to end the DEA's (US Drug Enforcement Administration's) ban on state-regulated commercial hemp farming in the US. The case was dismissed on November 28, and now the pair have filed a notice of appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Commonly associated with marijuana, hemp seed has been repeatedly banned for production in the country. However, with about 25 percent protein, whole hemp seed is second only to soybean in terms of complete protein content and is therefore of interest to functional food manufacturers. The lawyers working on behalf of the farmers are appealing, among other issues, the lower court's ruling that hemp and marijuana are the same. This is also what the DEA has contended, however, proponents of hemp farming say scientific evidence clearly shows that industrial hemp, which includes the oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis that would have been grown pursuant to North Dakota law, is genetically distinct from the drug varieties of cannabis and has no recreational drug effect. "Canada grows over 30,000 acres of industrial hemp annually without any law enforcement problems," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a non-profit organization working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the US. "In our federalist society, it is not the burden of North Dakota's citizens to ask Congress in Washington, D.C. to clear up its contradictory and confusing regulations concerning Cannabis; it is their right to grow industrial hemp pursuant to their own state law and the United States Constitution." Currently, North Dakota is the only state where farming industrial hemp is permitted. This year, the North Dakota Legislature removed the requirement that state-licensed industrial hemp farmers need to first obtain DEA permits before growing hemp. This enabled Monson and Hague to bring their case against the DEA. In California, Governor Schwarzenegger recently vetoed an industrial hemp bill that would have permitted that state to follow North Dakota's lead. The Californian industrial hemp bill would have allowed local farmers to legally produce and supply the seed. Hemp foods became legal in the US in 2001, production of the seed is still illegal across most states. This has stimulated Canadian production of the seed - the US buys about 90 percent of its crop and derivatives, according to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. In turn, Californian businesses spend millions of dollars each year importing hemp from Canada, China and Europe. Imports of hemp seed from Canada alone grew 300 percent between 2006 and 2007. The entire North American hemp market now exceeds an estimated $300m in annual retail sales. Hemp seed is also prized for sustainability as it favors environmentally-friendly farming.

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