Ottawa, Ontario
October 5, 1999


Hemp grower plans to take battle to court

By Jack Aubry

A Canadian Goose couldn’t get high on the stuff but 20 tons of Ontario birdseed has been confiscated at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing as part of the U.S. war on drugs.

The truckload of bird feed, which is sterilized seeds processed from industrial hemp, has been sitting in a Detroit warehouse since early August after the U.S. Customs Service swooped down on it at the border.

It’s very silly. They are telling us that this a truck full of marijuana when in fact a bag couldn’t get a buzz from the seed, said Jean Laprise from this Chatham-area farm on Monday. 

Laprise says instead of enforcing the law, the U.S. drug officials are making it up because American legislation clearly exempts sterilized hemp seed from its list of controlled substances.

He estimates the value of the birdseed at $35,000 and says he is now being threatened with fines of about $500,000 if he doesn’t recall already shipped products.

Laprise, the owner of Kenex Ltd., is caught in what the New York Times calls one of the most bizarre episodes of Washington’s campaign to curb illicit drug use. Hemp and marijuana are different types of Cannabis sativa but the U.S. government rarely recognizes the distinctions when it comes to that particular plant species.

It has been over a year since the Canadian government declared hemp a legitimate crop.

The birdseed seizure is the first time the legislation change in Canada has run afoul of American drug laws.

While smoking marijuana will lead to a noticeable high, smoking hemp will have no psychoactive effect. The psychoactive component of marijuana, known as THC for tetrahydrocannabinol, usually varies between five and 20 per cent of a leaf.

The only mind-altering threat posed by the birdseed sitting in Detroit, which has a THC content of 0.0014 per cent, comes from trying to imagine how minuscule its psychoactive component is to its consumer. Fourteen parts per million THC would hardly make a bird chirp, let alone reach a higher altitude.

Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said her country’s controlled substance act defines hemp as marijuana.

She released a statement from the agency which said that U.S. agencies have become aware that sterilized cannabis seed has been imported in the U.S. for use in food products for human consumption.

Furthermore, some of that seed, and products made from the seed, may be contaminated with THC. The agency’s position is that any product containing any amount of THC can only be imported into the U.S. by a company that is appropriately registered with DEA.

John Roulac, the president of Nutiva, a California company which has been supplied by Kenex, called the confiscation crazy.

When there are real criminals running around, I guess we have to stay focused on people who are obeying the law, said Roulac. The reality is that they are allowing shipments of hemp from France and Germany right into the U.S.

He termed the minute amount of THC found in 40,000 pounds of birdseed like an olive pit in a railroad car.

Roulac says the publicity about the seizure has outraged Kenex’s U.S. customers, who are buying its hemp seeds and fibres for food and beauty products. He says he has sold 100,000 hemp bars in the past five months and drug enforcement officers are trying to shut down the market.

In California, this is being laughed at. Kenex is the largest, most successful hemp processor in Canada. They are about as far away as you can get from a drug dealer. I mean give me a break, said Roulac.

He explained that the small amount of THC detected in the seed comes from unavoidable contact with leaves of the hemp plant.

Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MP Rose-Marie Ur echoed Roulac’s comments, calling Kenex a very above-board company. She said the U.S. officials were making a mountain out of a molehill and the confiscation is absolutely ridiculous.

She supports the company’s intentions to challenge in court under the North American Free Trade Agreement the DEA’s interpretation of its drug laws.