Seizure and DEA Interpretation
From: Don Wirtshafter
For those of you who have not yet heard, the hundreds of businesses who have staked their future on industrial hemp are going through a crisis. The Drug Enforcement Administration has changed their interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act to include many hemp products, especially those made of the nutritious seeds. Kenex, Inc., the most established Canadian producer had a truc of birdseed seized at the border and has been ordered to recall 17 loads that were already shipped to the United States. Many businesses, including my own, have received a Summons from Customs ordering us to disclose all of our imports of hemp.
According to the DEAís press release of October 6, 1999: "Recently, DEA and other federal agencies have become aware that sterilized cannabis seed has been imported into the United States for use in food products for human consumption. Furthermore, some of that seed, and products made from the seed, may be contaminated with THC. Under federal law, THC is a schedule I 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 DEA."
Arguments aside that organic THC is not Schedule I or that it takes
years to get a Schedule I license, the blockade at the border threatens
everything the hempsters have been working for, our movement, our industry and our livelihoods.
I used my presence in Washington to try to spark some movement in the
logjam that Kenex and the industry faces. I spent a morning discussing
the situation with Bruce Schwartz and Jeff Klein, the Washington-based
attorneys for Kenex. We agreed on most aspects of the case except two.
They insisted that the debate be over birdseed as that was something that a court could easily
understand. I was much more into defending the foods aspect of the case and pressed the need for
resolve of the issue before the upcoming Natural Products Expo. They disagreed with my
characterization that this case was about the DEA protecting the urine
testing industry and its invasion on individual privacy. The lawyers insisted that the public debate be restricted to birdseed. I
also met with Ned Daly, Leda Huta and John Richard of Ralph Naderís organization
to discuss the implications of the recent actions on our outstanding petition for rescheduling industrial hemp with
the DEA and the Department of Agriculture.
Brandy took the time to listen to the situation and then went to work calling the congressional liaisons from U.S. Customs and the DEA. Predictably, the DEA deferred responsibility for the blockade at the border. They blamed it on Customs and said there was no change of policy in the DEA. Armed with the DEAís own press release from the previous week acknowledging a change in interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act to include legal hemp products, Brandy did not accept that for an answer and pressed for a real response from the DEA liaison. Customs was more cooperative and promised her an answer as quickly as possible. Brandy then asked me to stay another day so she could arrange appointments for me with the responsible agencies.
The next morning, Thursday, October 7th, Brandy again made calls to the
various agencies. Eventually we got good news from the congressional liaison at U.S. Customs. She said the DEA had
relented and agreed to release the shipment of Kenex grown birdseed that the DEA ordered held
at the Detroit border over a month ago. I was given the name and phone
number of the Port Director in Detroit as well as his supervisor in case
I had any trouble. I got the pleasure of calling Jean Laprise of Kenex
and telling him the news. Using the congressmanís phone I called the
attorneys and David Frankel to discuss the situation. We agreed that we
needed to get something in writing from the DEA but that release of the
seized hempseed came first. I called our customer to assure that they
still wanted the 44,000 pound shipment. I left the office ecstatic that
the situation was close to over and headed on the Metro out to the suburbs where I had parked my pickup truck for the six hour ride
The Research Triangle Institute was scheduled to do a series of human trials on this issue for SAMHSA, the federal agency that accredits urine testing labs. The purpose was to prove there was an impossibility that any imaginable consumption of commercial hemp products could affect urine tests. Unfortunately, I understand that Research Triangle has not been able to start their human research due to holdups with paperwork by the DEA.
The issue is similar to poppy seeds affecting urine tests providing a false positive for heroin consumption. The urine testing industry has learned to deal with this issue by requiring a medical examination of any failed employee who claims poppy seeds as an excuse. Nobody has ever called for a ban on poppy seed imports.
So now we are in a situation where the DEA is admitting they have no jurisdiction over the sterilized seed of hemp but that they will assume jurisdiction over the sterilized seed of hemp when they are used for food purposes? Under what statutory authorization I ask? The DEA is clearly on thin ice. It is up to us to break through their weak spots and put them in deep water.
To add insult to injury, one more call came just as I was approaching
home. Bruce Schwartz called to inform me that the DEA had looked intothe situation and they were willing to release the subject load of
birdseed, but only if it was returned to Canada. They said that since
their investigation revealed that the seized load was intended for human
food, they would not admit the shipment. Actually, the customer for this load is one of the largest bird seed companies in the country. The
broker who this was being sold through is a two billion dollar per year
commodities broker. I was just a sales agent in this particular load.
The shipment was headed directly to the warehouse that has packed commercial birdseed for many years. Just because I was the one who went
to my Congressman for help should not mean a thing to the DEA.
What at first felt like a real victory turned into a small, micro win,
leaving the most important issues on the table. We still have to comply
with the Customs subpoenas that we received. Product recalls are still
in effect. Others that try to import from places other than Kenex are
taking a huge chance of being caught. We still canít assure customers
that they are not subject to legal hassles and product recalls. It took
ten years for us to get the larger food companies interested in hemp. The paranoia
generated by the DEAís action will set us back many years. We are sunk if we canít change the
situation soon, especially before the Natural Products Expo.
I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have. These are
best sent by email as I am almost continuously on the road.