|March 3, 2000
Drug Czar Warns Legislators on Illinois Hemp Plan
With the prices of corn, soybeans and other commodities at their lowest
levels in years, and the agricultural community taking an economic beating,
twenty-one states have either passed or considered bills related to the
legalization of industrial hemp. That was the case in Illinois this week as
the Senate, by a vote of 49-9, passed a bill that would provide $375,000 for
a two-year study by the University of Illinois on the potential benefits of
hemp to that state's beleaguered farmers. The bill now goes to the House.
Barry McCaffrey, however, sees industrial hemp not as a boon to farmers but
rather as a threat to the nation.
In a letter faxed Monday (2/28) to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan
(D-Chicago), the White House "Drug Czar" warned against the House's adoption
of the plan.
"The federal government is concerned that hemp cultivation may be a stalking-horse for the legalization of marijuana,"
But state Senator Evelyn Bowles (D-Evansville) strongly disagrees with
McCaffrey's assessment. Senator Bowles told The Week Online that she is
disappointed in McCaffrey's interpretation of the bill.
"It is absolutely ludicrous to put that (drug-related) connotation on the
intention of this bill," said Senator Bowles. "What we are trying to get
done here is simply a study for the purpose of exploring a legitimate agricultural option. We hope to study
all aspects of industrial hemp, from its economic potential for Illinois' farmers to the potential for growing
hemp with zero THC. The agriculture departments at the Universities of
Illinois and at Southern Illinois would undertake this study."
"Agriculture in Illinois is as depressed as it's been probably since the
1800's," Senator Bowles continued. "In looking at the industrial hemp issue,
it has become apparent to me that it has the potential to be a definite
positive as an alternative crop for farmers in our state. I would note that
the Farm Bureau and the soil and water management people are very supportive
of this study."
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, told The Week
Online that the Speaker has not yet commented publicly on the letter.
"The Speaker has said that he is in receipt of the letter, and he has circulated it to the House, so that people can draw their
own conclusions," he said.
Madigan, a conservative Democrat who has been a member of the House for 26
years, and Speaker for all but a brief time since 1983, doesn't want to
influence his colleagues by taking a position until all the facts are before
them. But according to Brown, he has not exactly been swayed by McCaffrey's
take on the matter either.
"He (Madigan) wants to listen to the entire debate on the bill before coming
to a decision," said Brown. "But the bill calls for a study by two prestigious universities, with all kinds of safeguards in place including
low THC seeds from a secure source. Agriculture is an enormous industry in
this state, and they're having a tough time. As far as we can tell, the
people who want to see this passed have legitimate agricultural interests at
stake here. The Speaker views this bill as a sincere effort to study industrial applications of hemp."
The Week Online has obtained a copy of McCaffrey's letter, which outlines
the administration's concerns. In addition to the statement regarding hemp
as a "stalking horse for marijuana legalization" (which appears in the
letter in bold type), McCaffrey expresses concern about the impact of edible, low-THC hemp products on the reliability of drug testing. The
letter reads in part:
"Over the past two years, the DEA has received information that sterilized
cannabis seed, not solely bird seed, has been imported for the manufacture
of food products intended for human consumption. DEA also learned from the
Armed Forces and other federal agencies that individuals who tested positive
for marijuana use subsequently raised their consumption of these food products as a defense against positive drug tests. Consequently, the
Administration is reviewing the importation of cannabis seeds and oil because of their THC content. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is
studying the effects of ingesting hemp products on urinalysis and other drug
But Erwin Sholts, Director of Agricultural Development and Diversification
for the state of Wisconsin, and Director of the North American Industrial
Hemp Council told The Week Online that McCaffrey's rationale is less than
"Did you know that if you eat a poppy seed bun you'll test positive for
opiates for the next four hours?" he said. "The saddest part of the federal
government's campaign against industrial hemp is their dishonesty. This is
not about drugs, it's not about marijuana, it's not about the counterculture. It's about farmers, and it's about a crop that is both
useful and environmentally desirable. Dr. Paul G. Mahlberg, who was a primary researcher on the cannabis plant for the Bureau of
Narcotics and the DEA for 34 years, joined the board of NAIHC and has been outspoken in
opposition to much of what the government is now presenting as fact."
Dr. Mahlberg, from his office at the University of Indiana, told The Week
Online that the DEA refuses to recognize or admit some basic, established
truths regarding cannabis.
"According to the DEA, hemp is marijuana," said Dr. Mahlberg. "They don't
recognize a substance called hemp, despite the fact that it is recognized
the world over. They have their own little definition of what cannabis is.
Also, the federal government's interpretation that industrial hemp leads to
the abusive use of marijuana is incorrect for two reasons. First, hemp is
low in THC and high in CDC, cannabidiol, while marijuana has the opposite
distribution of these two agents. CDC, it must be stressed, is antagonistic
to THC. In other words, the presence of high levels of CDC renders THC with
little or no effect. Second, since these two plants (hemp and marijuana) are
so closely related, they will cross-pollinate. This means that the presence
of hemp being grown in an environment will degrade THC levels in the seed
generation of any marijuana being grown in proximity to it."
Sholts is concerned that the administration's intransigence on industrial
hemp will cause a lot more damage to the nation than any perceived problems
stemming from its cultivation.
"The United Nations has said that within six years the world will be facing
a fiber crisis," Sholts continued. "I had a study done several years ago by
the US Forest Products Laboratory here in Madison. That report showed that
six years from now, we'll have a market for hemp in Wisconsin large enough
to support half a million acres of production. The DEA heard about that
study and do you know what they did? They ordered me to take the name of the
lab off of it. I can still distribute it, but they told me that I had to
identify it only as coming from a 'distinguished federal researcher.' Ha."
"In Illinois, they're looking to do a study, and the feds come in to try and
kill it. Here in Wisconsin, we are trying to pass a joint resolution of the
House and Senate which simply says that if the federal government does get
around to changing its policy on hemp, that the state will promote its
cultivation. Now, you can't get much more benign than that. But the feds
came in to try to kill that too. Out in Hawaii, where they passed a law to
do a test crop, you know what they have? They have a quarter of an acre of
hemp, inside a steel cage, with two guards circling the plot."
Hemp is being grown experimentally in Canada, England and Australia, is
cultivated in Switzerland, China and elsewhere. The United Nations defines
industrial hemp as having a THC level below 1%. The DEA, until recently,
considered 0.3% THC as the upper limit, above which hemp seeds or other
products could not be imported. On January 5 McCaffrey's agency sent a
letter to customs agents and other officials, instructing them to set their
new standard at 0% THC detectable. Research indicates that it is nearly
impossible for humans to self-induce intoxication at levels anywhere below
But despite hemp's support among dozens of farm bureaus, agricultural associations, state legislatures and even the
DEA's former lead researcher, McCaffrey has consistently dismissed hemp's potential as an industrial crop.
In 1998, in response to a question about hemp, McCaffrey ridiculed the idea,
saying that despite the support of "noted agronomists like (actor and hemp
advocate) Woody Harrelson" he saw no evidence of any legitimate use for the
crop. Sholts and others disagree.
"The first large scale uses of domestic hemp will be in the automotive
industry, where it's already being used, as well as in carpets, building
materials and the like," Sholts said. "You must remember that it does take
some time to reintroduce a crop industrially. On the agricultural side, we
have farmers across the country who desperately need a new crop. Cotton
farmers who need a rotation crop. Corn and soybean farmers who can't get a
decent price for their crops because we overproduce."
"There's an enormous groundswell of support among American farmers for the
re-legalization of industrial hemp, and soon, possibly within a year, they're going to make a lot of noise at the federal level. And Barry
McCaffrey is going to have a very tough time trying to stand up in the
public arena against the American farmer."
Senator Bowles agrees.
"I'm very, very disappointed that General McCaffrey chose to somehow tie the
issue of industrial hemp in with the drug issue," she said.
Asked whether she believes that McCaffrey's response represents bureaucratic
flailing at shadows in the midst of a losing effort to hold together a
failing mission, Senator Bowles quoted from a Chicago Sun-Times editorial
from March 1st.
"The federal government is concerned that hemp cultivation may be 'a
stalking horse for the legalization of marijuana,' McCaffrey wrote to House
Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). That is typical overreaction from
McCaffrey, commander-in-chief of the nation's costly but largely ineffective
war on drugs."
Pressed as to whether she believes that General McCaffrey was, in fact, the
front man for a failed policy, Senator Bowles paused. "I'll just say that
the observation by the Sun-Times was on target," she said, adding, "I just
wish that General McCaffrey had looked more closely at the real purpose of
our hemp bill."
From: The Week Online with DRCNet, Issue #127 - March 3, 2000