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BAN ON TRACE ELEMENTS
OF HEMP IN FOOD

Federal drug agents are taking a potshot at the burgeoning popularity of hemp-based energy bars, salad dressing and chips, ordering stores to strip shelves of products that contain even trace amounts of psychoactive ingredients.

The hemp industry says that the new Drug Enforcement Administration rules are killing the $5 million-a-year sales of hemp-based food products, and are contrary to more than 60 years of government policy, which sought to distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana.

“This is totally opposite policy,'' said Don Wirtshafter, founder of The Hempery in Guysville, Ohio, which sells hemp food products, oil and clothing.

He said his company already has lost three major accounts because of the DEA actions, and claimed the federal decision has dampened a flourishing market for hemp foods, which began to flourish five years ago.

A DEA spokesman said the rule is only “more of a clarification” of existing U.S. policies on hemp usage.

Under the rule, agricultural uses of hemp in birdseed and animal foods is permitted, and hemp is allowed in clothing or rope.

But the DEA rule puts hemp for human consumption in a class of illegal drugs that includes heroin and LSD if it is found to contain any amount of tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.

As an interpretation, the DEA said its rule on hemp for human consumption went into effect when it was published in the Federal Register Oct. 6. But the agency is giving health food stores and the industry “a grace period” until Feb. 6 to remove the products from shelves, after which stocking the products will be illegal.

In a statement issued with the rule, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said “many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana.”

The industry says that removing trace amounts of THC from hemp products is impossible, and noted the government allows bakeries to use poppy seeds that have trace amounts of opium.

“There's no such thing as a zero standard - just look at the debate over arsenic in water,'' said David Bonner, chairman of the Hemp Industry Association's food and oil committee.

Bonner said that hemp used for food products - basically the stems and seeds of the plants - are cultured from plants that have low levels of THC, and most of that is washed away during processing. “There's no psychoactive activity possible here,” Bonner said.

Bonner, who owns a company selling hemp-based soap, said he's concerned his business will be affected because the rule is so broadly written that the DEA might try to show that humans are absorbing trace amounts of THC through their skin.

The industry has asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco to stop the DEA from enforcing the regulation pending a full hearing on the issue. The court is expected to rule this month.

DEA has been involved in a long-running battle with the hemp industry for several years. In 1991, the agency ordered the U.S. Customs Service to confiscate 20 tons of birdseed imported from Canada because it was found to contain trace amounts of THC. The DEA spokesman said the new rule clarifies that sales of hemp products not consumed by humans are approved.

Former drug czar Barry McCaffrey also urged the DEA to ban hemp on grounds that members of the U.S. military were contending at court-martial that their positive urine tests for marijuana were caused after they ate hemp-based foods. The industry says the government adjusts its testing program to accept trace levels of opium caused by poppy seeds, and could do the same for hemp.

Written by: Lance Gay


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