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Hemp growers, buyer sue

Posted on September 10, 2000

Sioux Falls, South Dakota — The growers of thousands of hemp plants seized August 24 and a Delaware company that had contracted to buy the plants have filed federal lawsuits in Rapid City to bar the destruction of the plants.

Nearly 4,000 plants were taken by federal authorities from two plots on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The lawsuits argue that a 1998 tribal ordinance permits the growing of industrial hemp. The statute allows the cultivation of hemp if it has less than 1 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the drug that gives marijuana its high.

But the government makes no such distinction between hemp and marijuana, said US attorney Ted McBride.

“The plant is the plant,” he said.

Tom Cook disagrees. Cook, project director of the Slim Butte Land Use Association, said the government can distinguish between the plants but does not choose to do so. The association is a group of Oglala landowners who planted hemp to use as a home-building material.

“We’re not afraid because there’s the truth on our side,” Cook said.

McBride’s office wants a federal judge to permit the destruction of all the plants, except a few taken for drug testing.

Los Angeles lawyer Thomas Ballanco, who represents Oglala land committee members and the growers, said federal treaties give the tribe the right to develop new agricultural products on the reservation. Ballanco helped the tribe write its 1998 statute on hemp.

Delaware-based company Tierra Madre also has sued the Drug Enforcement Agency and the hemp growers, saying it had a contract to purchase hemp from grower Alex White Plume.

The company researches, develops and trades in industrial hemp products. It argues that the federal government is holding its property.

Company President Joseph Hickey Sr. is known for his ties to actor Woody Harrelson, who wants to make hemp and pot legal. In an affidavit, Hickey said the seizure of the plants has halted the housing project.

But McBride’s office filed a motion in the case Friday saying the deal between the company and White Plume was not completed until this week, long after the seizure of the plants.

“The purpose of entering into the agreement was not lawful, but was to subvert the drug laws of the United States of America which govern the production of industrial hemp,” the filing stated.

Lawyers expect a hearing to be scheduled soon before a federal judge.

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