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DEA Does Homework on Hemp Foods After New Rule Announced

Although February 6th Enforcement Looms, Hemp Industry Pledges to Continue to Sell Hemp Foods

WASHINGTON, DC – The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), representing over 250 companies and small businesses, learned last week that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has hired a Northern Virginia consulting firm to investigate the size and scope of the hemp foods market which has been doubling every year for the past five years and is presently estimated to be over $5 million annually. ICF Consulting contacted the HIA on behalf of the DEA for the first time, more than three months after the DEA announced a new rule that purports to ban hemp food products containing any infinitesimal trace THC beginning February 6th.

“It is very disappointing that the DEA waited this long to research the rapidly expanding hemp foods industry that is creating jobs and promoting highly nutritious foods for healthier lifestyles,” said David Bronner, Chairman of the Hemp Industries Association’s Food and Oil Committee. Industry attempts to initiate a dialogue with the DEA were ignored over the course of last year before the DEA issued its “Interpretive Rule” October 9. “This is the latest evidence that the DEA’s interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is purely a political decision not based on any real insight or awareness of the well-established hemp foods industry, and purposely ignores the relevant science and law which exempts non-viable hemp seed and oil from the DEA’s control, just as poppy seeds are,” says Bronner. According to the official Health Canada detection protocol, most hemp seed and oil in the U.S. market have undetectable THC, and hemp food vendors and retailers intend to continue selling hemp foods after February 6th.

Hemp seed has a well-balanced protein content, a substantial amount of vitamin E, and the highest content of essential fatty acids (EFAs) of any oil in nature: EFAs are the good fats that, like vitamins, the body does not produce and which doctors traditionally have recommended eating fish and flax to obtain. Thus, hemp seed and oil are increasingly incorporated as ingredients in a myriad of natural foods to boost their nutritional profile. U.S. companies are currently manufacturing cereals, waffles, pretzels, chips, salad dressings, bread and granola bars, among other products, that contain hemp seed or oil.

Hemp seeds are harvested from industrial hemp plants grown primarily in Canada and Europe under strict regulatory regimes and have no potential psychoactive “drug” effect and do not interfere with drug testing even when unrealistic amounts are eaten on a daily basis (see Poppy seeds, commonly consumed on bagels, contain harmless trace opiates (that have historically interfered with workplace drug tests), and the DEA has sensibly not attempted to override the Congressional exemption of poppy seeds from the statutory definition of “opium poppy” in the CSA even though natural opiates in themselves are controlled elsewhere in the CSA.

Internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents obtained by Vote Hemp through the Freedom of Information Act show that the DEA was instructed by the DOJ (of which the DEA is part) in March of 2000 not to restrict the import of hemp seed and oil: “Hemp products intended for human consumption have THC at levels too low to trigger a psychoactive effect and are not purchased, sold or marketed with the intent of having a psychoactive effect.” The original memo from John Roth, Chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the DOJ, to Donnie Marshall, Acting Administrator of the DEA, is available upon request (an identical letter was also sent to U.S. Customs by Mr. Roth).

Patrick Goggin, a San Francisco-based attorney who is local counsel for the industry’s legal team seeking relief on behalf of affected companies in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, says: “The Roth memo shows the DEA knows hemp seed and oil is harmless, but they are acting to the contrary. We’ve filed a motion to stay the new rule while our lawsuit is considered, but the court has not yet issued a decision.”

The 10-year-old global hemp market is a thriving commercial success. Unfortunately, because the DEA’s Drug-War paranoia has confounded the biologically-distinct non-psychoactive industrial hemp varieties of cannabis with the psychoactive marijuana varieties, the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing of industrial hemp.


Vote Hemp is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the acceptance of and a free market for industrial hemp and to changes in current law to allow U.S. farmers to once again grow hemp commercially.