Contact: Lauren Stansbury - (402) 540-1208

Federal Judge Calls DEA’s Views on Hemp Farming ‘Asinine’ in Case Over Industrial Hemp & Tribal Sovereignty

ST. LOUIS, MO — On Monday, Dec. 12 lawyers Bruce Ellison and David Frankel, representing Alex White Plume and his family of the Lakota Nation who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, made oral arguments in the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in front of a three-judge panel to reverse efforts by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to place an injunction preventing the White Plumes from growing industrial hemp. In what has been deemed a sovereignty case that is very uniquely framed, the White Plumes planted industrial hemp on their family land for three seasons only to have it cut down and confiscated by DEA agents.

During the oral arguments it became clear that Judge Kermit Bye and Judge Arlen Beam were focused on two issues: (1) the irrationality of allowing the exempt parts of the plant to be imported into the U.S. but not allowing industrial hemp to be grown in the U.S. and (2) the lack of any rational permitting process by the DEA. While the Government’s case was made, Judge Beam commented, “It seems asinine to me that they can bring in the Canadian stuff and use it but can’t grow it.” Beam also suggested that it did not make sense that Congress would try to make the economy of Native American tribes more enhanced by casino gambling but not allow industrial hemp cultivation.

The White Plumes assert their right to raise non-psychoactive industrial hemp as an exercise of their sovereign rights pursuant to an Oglala Sioux Tribal ordinance enacted to secure rights guaranteed by the Treaties of 1851 and 1868 signed between the Lakota Nation and the U.S. Nevertheless, the U.S. government maintains that its asserted “trust responsibility” gives it the final authority to decide appropriate uses of reservation lands.

The federal government filed a civil suit against the White Plumes in U.S. District Court in South Dakota, despite the facts that the Lakota were growing hemp for seed and fiber when they entered into the treaties with the U.S. government and that industrial hemp is legally imported into the U.S. from dozens of countries to feed the explosive domestic and global demand for nutritious omega-3-rich hemp foods and ecological hemp fiber products. The DEA sought a permanent injunction to prevent the White Plumes from growing industrial hemp without federal permission because the DEA has placed a de facto ban on non-psychoactive industrial hemp farming in the U.S. by treating it as if the crop were the same as drug/medical marijuana. Late last December, the court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment, which led to the appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The District Court completely ignored relevant Indian law, the treaties, the Constitution and the significance of the Myerle Papers when they granted the government’s motion for summary judgment,” says David Frankel, attorney and Vote Hemp board member.

“Because federal Indian law allows tribes to continue doing something today that they were doing at the time they signed treaties with the U.S. government, the Lakota have an excellent chance at reversal,” notes Ken Friedman, local counsel for the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp, who submitted their amicus brief in the White Plume case.

A decision in the case is expected in 2006. To read about the White Plume case and download the Vote Hemp and HIA amicus brief, please visit our Legal Cases section.


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.