Slide 1
Slide 2

Hemp group takes case to top court

Posted on June 27, 2000

Farmer: Crop is a valuable resource

By Hilary Krieger, Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Patriot

Concord, New Hampshire — With rekindled hopes for winning its battle to legally cultivate hemp, the New Hampshire Hemp Council yesterday appealed to a higher power — the US Supreme Court.

Since the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in March rejected the claim that hemp is distinct from marijuana and therefore not prohibited under federal law, the group petitioned the high court to review the case during its October term.

“We’re hoping that somebody will wake up,” said Democratic Rep. Derek Owen of Hopkinton, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It’s a common-sense thing and the Drug Enforcement (Administration) is so wrapped up in their drive to prevent the proliferation of drugs, they’re stepping on everything.”

Including, Owen maintains, the rights of small-time family farmers like himself who want to grow an environmentally friendly, renewable crop that can be used to make rope, clothing, oil and paper — but not mind-altering drugs.

“You can’t smoke hemp,” he said. It is genetically distinct from its Cannibus sativa L. cousin, marijuana, which alone contains enough of the psychoactive element THC needed for a chemical high. The council claims growing hemp and marijuana near each other even results in a cross-pollinated dilution of the drug’s effective ingredient.

While Owen and his supporters believe the federal law prohibiting marijuana growth exempts hemp because of the biological differences, they say the DEA hampers would-be hemp farmers just the same. Owen wants the Supreme Court to clarify the definition of the illegal substance in order to allow hemp harvests.

Rob Blakeney, the lawyer representing Owen and the council, argues the circuit court “misconstrued” certain expert testimony and that the DEA has overstepped its bounds by regulating an agricultural product.

The appellate court, though, was swayed by the idea that hemp crops would pose problems for law enforcement. The opinion states that, “problems of detection and enforcement easily justify a ban broader than the psychoactive variety of the plant.”

Allenstown Police Chief Jim McGonigle, who chairs the legislative committee of the New Hampshire Police Association, which has opposed hemp cultivation, said hemp crops would pose an “enforcement nightmare” with no good way to control the production of illicit marijuana among hemp harvests.

But he’s not too concerned about this newest challenge. “I’d be surprised if the Supreme Court would even hear their appeal. Two federal courts have already ruled against them, and there’d have to be some compelling reasons for the Supreme Court to even hear the case,” he said. “But you never know. They might decide to hear the case just to put it to bed.”

Mark Lathrop, who founded the hemp council, hopes McGonigle is in for a shock. But he acknowledged that the courts haven’t helped his cause so far. “We’re pretty disappointed with the courts,” he said. “We’re not surprised that the courts all along have upheld the federal dogma.”

Along with the two-year legal struggle, the council and Owen have repeatedly tried to pass state legislation that would legalize industrial hemp.

If the bill hadn’t been defeated by a close vote in February, New Hampshire could have joined a handful of states whose residents can apply for rarely granted DEA permits to grow hemp.

Owen said he isn’t sure what hemp products he and his wife Ruth would cultivate if his lawsuit proves successful, but declared that profit isn’t his motive. “We’re not interested in making a lot of money,” he said. “We’re interested in promoting a principle. We should be able to grow (hemp) if we want to.”

Copyright © 2000, Concord Monitor and New Hampshire Patriot. All rights reserved.