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Hemp food firms fighting DEA ban

Saturday, January 19, 2002

By Caroline E. Mayer, The Washington Post

Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread. Hemp Plus Granola. Hempzel Pretzels. Hempseed Energy Bars. Hemp Chips. Hempsi Hempmylk.

Those products, now beginning to appear on store shelves, contain what is being promoted as the latest nutritional wonder, rich in protein, vitamin E and two essential fatty acids.

But federal drug officials have a radically different view of the hemp seeds and hemp oil that are being added to ice cream, candy, salad oil, waffles and beer.

To the Drug Enforcement Administration, hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, so one is as illegal as the other.

Food manufacturers say their products contain little, if any, of the hallucinogen found in marijuana, and certainly no more than the amount of opiate found in a poppy-seed bagel.

Nonetheless, the DEA has ordered any food containing hemp off store shelves by early next month.

Soaps, cosmetics and clothes made with hemp may still be sold unless and until there is evidence that the body can absorb the hemp in such products.

The DEA's order, issued Oct. 9, is the latest twist in an ongoing battle between drug-control advocates and a growing number of farmers, entrepreneurs and drug-reform advocates such as "Cheers" actor Woody Harrelson who want to legalize industrial hemp.

The amount of food products containing hemp is small, accounting for only about $5 million in sales annually, with most products sold in health-food stores.

Hemp-food makers note that soy foods, considered a fringe food for health enthusiasts only a few years ago, have become mainstream, sold in widely different forms such as soy milk and tofu turkey.

In 2001, sales of soy food products totaled more than $3.3 billion, according to the Maine consulting firm Soyatech.

It's no wonder, then, that the hemp industry is fighting the DEA order, which takes effect Feb. 6.

The Hemp Industries Association, which represents product manufacturers and Canadian exporters of hemp seed, has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to issue a stay pending a ruling on its petition to overturn the DEA's order.

Meanwhile, Kenex Ltd. of Canada, the largest exporter of hemp seed to the United States -- it is illegal to grow industrial hemp in most of this country -- intends, under the North America Free Trade Agreement, to seek compensation of at least $20 million as a result of the DEA's action.

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