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Hemp: Legal to Buy, Illegal to Grow

Hemp farm field in France

by Dave Good

In June, David Bronner locked himself and a dozen potted, well, pot plants into a steel cage near the White House. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Bronner spent three hours in the cage before firefighters cut him out of it. He was arrested, and then later released.

Bronner says the marijuana plants he brought along to Washington were intended not for illicit drug use but for the production of industrial grade hemp. But no matter — hemp of any stripe is illegal to grow in American soil.

Bronner, CEO of Escondido’s Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is a hemp activist and has been for more than a decade. The family-run company imports tons of hemp extracts and oils for use in their skin care business, primarily from Canada where the growing of hemp is legal.

The world leader in hemp production? China. Other hemp producing countries include France, North Korea, and South America.  

Hemp is essentially fiber that is derived from the stalks of extremely low tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) bearing strains of marijuana plants, THC being the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. Industrial hemp could therefore be called the non-drug cousin of marijuana.

But to the Drug Enforcement Agency, any THC is bad THC.  From the DEA guidelines issued in 2001:

“Hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant … and hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana.” They go on to say that, “While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, have been found to contain THC. The existence of THC in hemp is significant because THC, like marijuana, is a schedule I controlled substance.”

Federal law prohibits human consumption and possession of schedule I controlled substances.   

Some background: hemp may be one of the earliest of domesticated plants, and was possibly used in the making of cloth by the early Romans.  Today, hemp is used in textiles, paper making, bio-fuels, and in skin care products. In 2000, consumer activist Ralph Nader wrote that industrial hemp seed and oil was increasingly used in corn chips, nutrition bars, hummus, nondairy milks, breads and cereals, products that he said had “virtually undetectable THC levels.”

But in 2001, the DEA issued rulings which effectively banned hemp use in foods.  “Under federal law, Congress defined marijuana to focus on those parts of the cannabis plant that are the source of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). The marijuana portions of the cannabis plant include the flowering tops (buds), the leaves, and the resin of the cannabis plant,” all of which are verboten by law.

The report did state however that if the product containing hemp did not cause that same THC content to enter the body, it could be sold in the U.S. Sold, but not grown, hence Mr. Bronner’s conundrum. He is not alone in his criticism of the fed.

“This has resulted in an absurd policy: hemp seed, oil and fiber are all currently legal for trade in the U.S., and domestic industry imports industrial hemp for diverse uses.” Rocky Anderson is the former mayor of Salt Lake City. “Yet, at the same time, U.S. farmers are prevented from producing industrial hemp for the domestic market.” 

Other foods currently restricted or banned in the U.S. include the alcoholic beverage of poets past Absinthe (unless it contains extremely low doses of the active ingredient thujone,) Fugu, or puffer fish (a sometimes deadly delicacy rife with neurotoxins,) shark fins, horse meat, sassafras oil (considered to be a carcinogen,) wild Beluga caviar (the harvest of which has been detrimental to the sturgeon population,) and unpasteurized milk. 21 states in America outright ban the sale, mandating the pasteurized variety instead.

[Full disclosure: Sunfood.com offers hemp products produced by 3rd party companies. When it's locally grown and free of restrictions, we'd love to buy and sell our own... someday? - Sunfood]

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