Hemp debate ignites between DEA and academia

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

The battle over the right to farm hemp for food purposes rages on
in the US, with North Dakota State University submitting a brief
amicus curaie in support of a lawsuit filed by two farmers
against the DEA.

North Dakota's Dave Monson and Wayne Hague filed a lawsuit in June to end the DEA's (US Drug Enforcement Administration) ban on state-regulated commercial hemp farming in the US. 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. 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. North Dakota State University (NDSU) says it has been waiting eight years for a license from the DEA to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes. Located on NDSU's campus, the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES) was authorized in 1999 by the state to "conducted baseline research, including production and processing in conjunction with the research and extension of the state, regarding industrial hemp and other alternative use crops".​ This authorization had been granted following a study the state legislature ordered NDAES to conduct in 1997. That study had concluded that "industrial hemp is a viable alternative rotation crop and that its cultivation would create significant economic and business opportunities for the state's farmers". ​The amicus brief now submitted by the university is underscoring for the courts that it has been waiting since 1999 for the DEA to grant their application to grow non-drug industrial hemp to create varieties best suited for the North Dakota climate and soil conditions. An amicus brief, or amicus curiae​, is information or testimony given voluntarily by a third party, often an advocacy group, to a legal case. According to the NDSU's amicus, if Monson and Hauge are able to cultivate industrial hemp without fear of prosecution for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, the academic institution will be able to study the yielded plants. The university indicates that, in addition, it is convinced the DEA's outcome with regards to the license has already been made and cites a letter from the federal authority to make this claim. "Further, there is little doubt about the outcome of the applications for registration that have been filed by Rep. Monson and Mr. Hauge,"​ states the amicus brief. "DEA has already decided to treat the applications as being for registration to 'manufacture [] marijuana -which is the most widely abused controlled substance in the United States…'"​ 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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