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When is Salad Dressing a Drug?

Posted on December 22, 2000

DEA Proposes Restrictive Interim Rule Barring Hemp Foods, Industry & Proponents Gear Up.

Late last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) set in motion plans to bar hemp-based foods and other hemp products that can enter the human body, such as lotions and creams.

On November 30th, it quietly published a notice of the proposed “Interim Rule” in an obscure federal publication called the Unified Agenda.

The proposed rule change has three parts: First, the DEA proposes to change its interpretation of existing law to bring hemp products within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act; second, it would change DEA regulations to agree with the new interpretation; and third, it would establish an “interim rule” exempting traditional hemp products that are not designed for human consumption, such as paper and clothing, from being subject to the Controlled Substances Act.

In the DEA’s own words, “… In order to protect the public health and safety, the interim rule will not allow ‘hemp’ products that result in THC entering the human body. In this manner, it will remain clear that the only lawful way THC may enter the human body is when a person is using a federally approved drug or when the person is the subject of federally approved research.”

An interim rule becomes law once it is published in the Federal Register, which can be done without public comment.

The DEA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP — the drug czar’s office) have reflexively battled the hemp industry throughout the Clinton administration. To justify barring hemp products for human consumption, they have claimed that consuming the products will “confound” drug testing for marijuana.

Hemp industry members disagree vociferously, and have the science to back their position.

Don Wirtshafter of the Ohio Hempery is one of the point persons in the current campaign to block the interim rules. He told DRCNet, “You’d have to be smeared with hemp oil and eat nothing but hemp products for a week, and even then I doubt you’d come up positive.”

“That claim doesn’t stand up to scientific testing. We have research results from the Research Triangle Institute and research paid for by the government of Manitoba and Canadian hemp industries, and they don’t agree with the DEA.”

Yet another study, done by Leson Environmental Consulting in Berkeley, California, also found that “a conflict between hemp food consumption and workplace drug testing is most unlikely.”

David Bronner, the grandson of the original Dr. Bronner and head of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, concurred. “A positive test for THC can’t happen without super-high consumption of hemp foods, and even then I’d say it’s extremely unlikely.”

Bronner suggested one explanation for the DEA’s concern about hemp foods interfering with marijuana testing. “We had a merchant marine claim our soaps gave him a false positive.”

Greg Herriott, the owner of Toronto-based Hempola and head of the Ontario Hemp Association, has run into the same problem. He provided DRCNet with just completed test results for his product. According to Maxxam Analytics, the Canadian laboratory that performed the tests, Hempola hemp seed oil contains “absolutely no traces of tetrahydrocannabinol.”

“This is so bogus,” he told DRCNet. “they’re blaming other forms of THC ingestion on hemp foods. I’m getting really tired of this crap — please stop blaming my product.”

Bronner’s and Herriot’s complaints are backed up by apocryphal stories circulating around the country, usually about soldiers who foiled drug tests by claiming they had ingested hemp products. The belief that the “hemp defense” can help one get out of a dirty drug test has apparently taken hold among enough half-baked pot-smokers to take on the form of an urban myth, one whose consequences are haunting the hemp industry.

“This will hurt our sales,” said Herriot, whose company produces hemp oil and hemp flour products. But he was quick to point out that, as a Canadian concern, his company could survive even without the US market.

Bronner is also vulnerable, but unlikely to have to fold, he told DRCNet. “We could reformulate our products without hemp,” he said, “but most other hemp businesses cannot do that.”

Hemp industry members and supporters are not just complaining.

Activists have been burning up the wires plotting a counteroffensive, and they are prepared to attack on several fronts. Industry and activist list-serves have featured calls for a letter-writing campaign urging Congress members to throw a wrench in the DEA’s plans by demanding that the rule change be treated as a “major rule” and thus subject to public comment.

Earlier this week, lawyers representing industry members met in Washington, DC, to set in motion the campaign to halt the interim rule.

“The Department of Justice has already signed off on this,” said Bronner, “but Customs, Treasury, Commerce, and the Office of Management and Budget all have to sign off, too, so those are all points of attack. We’re just waiting for the lawyers to set up the template.”

The Ohio Hempery’s Wirtshafter had a sense of urgency. “If this gets out as an interim rule, it takes immediate effect,” he told DRCNet. “We must fight this now before if passes review by the other agencies.”

Hemp advocates are at something of a loss to explain DEA’s vindictive attitude, especially given its lack of any scientific basis.

“they’re not even trying to fend off those ‘hemp defense’ claims,” said an exasperated Bronner. “That’s because they’re looking for any excuse to ban hemp as part of the culture war.”

For Wirtshafter, “This is just McCaffrey, his last hurrah.”

And that thought brought him some solace. “This thing still has a way to go down the regulatory pathway,” he mused. “I don’t think the Clinton administration has a chance of getting this published, and Bush will have to start all over.”

Perhaps, but hemp supporters aren’t taking any chances.

DRCNet will be issuing an action alert on this issue shortly.

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