Farmers appeal hemp ruling
By Marvin Baker, Staff Writer
The Minot Daily News - Minot, North Dakota
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Two North Dakota farmers have appealed a federal judge's Nov. 28 ruling that dismissed their suit for the right to legally grow industrial hemp.
Wayne Hague of Ray and David Monson of Osnabrock filed a notice of appeal Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
The two producers originally filed a federal lawsuit in June to end the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's ban on commercial hemp farming in the United States.
By North Dakota state law, hemp farming has been legal in North Dakota since 1999, but federal government restrictions have overridden any attempts to grow hemp in the state.
"We are happy this lawsuit is moving forward with an appeal," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a non-profit organization working to bring industrial hemp farming back to the United States. "We feel the lower court's decision not only overlooks Congress' original legislative intent, but also fails to stand up for fundamental states' rights against overreaching federal regulation. Canada grows more than 30,000 acres of industrial hemp annually without any law enforcement problems. In our federalist society, it is not the burden of North Dakota 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."
Lawyers working on behalf of Hauge and Monson are actually appealing a number of issues that surfaced during a hearing in Bismarck Nov. 14. In particular, the lower court ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as the DEA has contended, and thus failed to properly consider the Commerce Clause argument that Hauge and Monson raised - that Congress cannot interfere with North Dakota's state-regulated hemp program.
Scientific evidence shows that industrial hemp, which includes the oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis that would have been grown under a strict North Dakota regulatory regime, is genetically distinct from the drug varieties of cannabis and has absolutely no recreational drug effect.
Hauge said the best thing that could happen would be for Congress to change the definition of hemp to make it distinct from marijuana, which would allow importation of viable hemp seeds from Canada and other countries so an industry could begin in North Dakota.
"Hemp is not a drug, it cannot be eaten or inhaled to obtain a high," Hauge said. "Hemp, however, can be eaten as a healthy food, hemp oils rubbed on the body to replenish moisture, hemp seeds cooked to make a good tasting hemp milk, hemp fibers used to make auto parts, added to concrete, and now the Canadians are using a new technique to make athletic wear from hemp stalks."
Hauge said he is looking forward to the next step that will eventually bring fields of industrial hemp to North Dakota and economic prosperity for businesses that will follow.
"I will continue to register some land with the North Dakota Agriculture Department to grow industrial hemp until such time as hemp is legalized," Hauge said. "If that is sooner due to successful litigation and only possible with feral hemp, I will work closely with NDSU (North Dakota State University) to set up necessary plots."
Monson, who is a state legislator, was disappointed the case was dismissed, but wasn't surprised by the ruling. He did say, however, that he was pleased that through the course of legal paperwork, the DEA offered NDSU a memorandum of agreement to grow industrial hemp experimentally.
The lawsuit prompted the DEA to finally respond to NDSU's 1999 application for federal permission to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.
NDSU officials are reluctant to proceed, primarily because the price tag to start a venture will easily exceed $50,000.
However, the Vote Hemp Web site states the organization is hopeful an agreement can be reached before the 2008 planting season gets under way.
If all else fails, Monson said the case made the DEA stand up and take notice and now this appeal should get industrial hemp another step to becoming federally legal in North Dakota.
Ken Junkert, who handles industrial hemp applications for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said DEA agents recently hand-delivered a draft agreement for research to Burton Johnson at NDSU. Johnson is the individual who applied to experimentally grow hemp in 1999. Junkert said NDSU attorneys are reviewing the draft agreement.
According to Hauge, organizations like Vote Hemp and the Hemp Industries Association need to drum up support personnel to lobby Congress for the 2007 Industrial Hemp Farming Act that would put still more pressure on the courts to act in farmers' favor.
Hauge said the easiest, most efficient way to solve this problem is for Congress to declare that the trace amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in hemp has no value as a recreational drug.
"A legislative fix to the difficulty with percentage of THC would obviously be the preferred way to end this dispute," Hauge said. "North Dakota will be ahead of other states when that happens, since a proper legal framework has been designed and implemented to handle the registration and inspections necessary to prevent illegal use of industrial hemp.
"If there is a change to the rules regarding the definition of industrial hemp, then DEA will actually be able to say those words and start to concentrate efforts to diminish real drug use throughout the country," Hauge continued. "Then farmers, business, and industries will be able to work toward common goals of providing a viable renewable energy crop with truly thousands of uses.
Industrial hemp license applications due
BISMARCK - Applications for 2008 North Dakota industrial hemp production licenses are due Jan. 1.
"Industrial hemp production remains in limbo," said Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson. "The refusal of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana casts considerable doubt on whether holders of state licenses will be allowed to grow industrial hemp. Nevertheless, I am committed to fully implementing state laws authorizing the production, processing and sale of this crop in North Dakota."
Johnson said persons interested in growing and processing industrial hemp should contact Ken Junkert at the Agriculture Department at 328-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junkert said he has received a 2008 application from Ray producer Wayne Hauge and believes David Monson, Osnabrock, will be completing his application in the next several days. Hauge and Monson are the two producers who filed a suit against the government for the right to legally grow and market industrial hemp.
Junkert said two other individuals, one in Dickinson and one in Killdeer, have previously filed to grow industrial hemp but their application process broke down before the deadline.
"Prospective growers should understand that the process involves a criminal background check, including fingerprints, as well as fees and considerable paperwork," Johnson said. "Finally, there is no guarantee that license holders will be allowed to grow industrial hemp."
Junkert said Hauge and Monson are two determined producers interested in legitimate production of this valuable agricultural commodity.
"They've done their homework and they're going to exhaust every possibility," Junkert said. "I think their intention in 2008 is so they remain in good standing with the state through the appeals process."
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