Boulder Daily Camera
October 7, 1999

Snack food maker fears DEA bust
DEA says seeds used in food cannot contain controlled substances

By Christine Romero
Camera Business Writer

Kathleen Chippi reminds callers on her answering machine to have "a hempy day."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration doesn't have a problem with that, but industrial hemp companies better not be dabbling with products of the higher kind.

Chippi is worried her homegrown business, Boulder Hemp Co., is endangered after recent crackdowns by the DEA on other companies making hemp-based foods.

Hemp advocates say the plant is an environmentally sound source of food, fabric, paper and even beauty products.

"The DEA makes it seem like people are breaking the law by making hemp foods and selling them, which is completely inaccurate," Chippi said. "Yet, they are accountable to no one." 

A California company making hemp-based nutrition bars was asked to give up its inventory after federal drug agents said the bars could be contaminated with THC - tetrahydrocannabanol, the active ingredient in marijuana. The agents said the items didn't meet the United States' zero-tolerance policy for controlled substances.

Chippi said it doesn't matter if the hemp seeds contain THC but that they must be sterilized so they cannot be grown. Typically, hemp seeds used in birdseed and human food has a THC content of roughly .0014 percent, she said. Smoking marijuana usually has a THC content between 5 percent and 10 percent, depending on the plant.

Chippi's company makes food products with the sterilized seeds, including Heavenly Hemp chips, cookies and pancake mixes. The products are sold in natural food stores such as Wild Oats and Whole Foods.

Chippi said the food products don't give people a "high," abide by the law won't give non-pot smoking people a positive urinalysis test.

Her passion for the plant stems from the legacy it has in the United States.

"We wouldn't even have white people in this country if Christopher Columbus' sails weren't made of hemp," she said.

According to the Controlled Substances Act, it's unacceptable to have any part of the Cannabis sativa plant, growing or not, including seeds. However, the act allows for mature stalks of the marijuana plant, fiber from these stalks and sterilized seeds incapable of germination.

The Colorado Hemp Initiative Project bases its position on sterile marijuana seed partially on a 1991 criminal case, said Laura Kriho, a spokeswoman for the group. She contends a DEA investigator said in an affidavit that the DEA doesn't consider sterile marijuana seeds sold for birds to be a controlled substance, regardless of THC content.

This DEA affidavit, which appeared in part on the initiative's Web site, could not be confirmed by the Daily Camera.

Hemp advocates argue it doesn't matter if it is birds or humans eating the seeds.

Recently, the DEA became aware that the sterile, imported hemp seeds were being added to human foods, said Rojene Waite, DEA spokeswoman.

"Some of that seed, and the products made from the seed, may be contaminated with THC," Waite said. "Under federal law, THC is a ... controlled substance. Therefore, any product containing any amount of THC can only be imported into the United States by a company that is appropriately registered with the DEA.

"What a company should do if they are serious, they should contact the local DEA office and ask about registration."

David Almquist, of Boulder Hemp Co., says the DEA's response to the hemp-food products is reactionary.

"It's a Johnny-come-lately kind of policy that's been put out," Almquist said. "There's no legal basis for what they are saying. We aren't doing anything wrong. If they go to court, they will lose. They always lose."

Still, these laws have been a source of confusion and concern for the Boulder Hemp Co. In 1997, the company was shipping a load of cookies to a grocery store when the Wisconsin police took them. Eventually, the police burned the cookies, worth about $380.

"The police said it was in the best interest of the community," Chippi said.

More information is available from the Drug Enforcement Agency, , and the Colorado Hemp Initiative Project,

Boulder Daily Camera
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