Lawyers representing 250 hemp companies will make their final arguments before a court of appeal in San Francisco tomorrow, in an attempt to hold off a ban on hemp foods by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) argues that the DEA attempt to ban hemp foods, which contain several valuable nutrients, misinterprets legislation in place to combat street drugs.
If the final rule issued by the DEA in March takes effect, it would see a US ban on hemp seed and oil, with severe repercussions for the multimillion-dollar hemp food industry.
The DEA's rule is similar to an interpretative rule issued in October 2001 that was held off by a Ninth Circuit Stay issued on March 7, 2002. On June 30, 2003 the hemp industry won a further phase in the battle with the Ninth Circuit invalidating the interpretative rule. In April this year the HIA and the Organic Consumers Association gained another stay from the Ninth Circuit to prevent the DEA's final rule.
The US hemp industry claims that it voluntarily observes reasonable THC limits similar to those adopted by European nations as well as Canada and Australia. These limits protect consumers from workplace drug-testing interference. It also says that sterilized hemp seed and oil are exempt from the Controlled Substances Act under the statutory definition of marijuana, just as poppy seeds are exempted under the statutory definition of the opium poppy.
Hemp seed oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein and is a growing category in the natural products industry. Earlier this month a hemp-derived product, Nutiva's Organic Hemp Protein Powder, won the new product showcase award in the supplements category at Natural Products Expo East. Other hemp food makers at the exhibition included French Meadow Bakery, Gertrude & Bronner's Magic Alpsnack, North American Hemp Co and Nature's Path Foods.
The DEA rule would also affect the numerous personal care products that now use hemp oil as a key ingredient.
A decision on the final rule is expected in the next six months.