Asa Hutchinson, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) body, has admitted for the first time that the DEA's new “interpretive rule” banning hemp foods with “any THC” is not necessarily final.

Speaking on the National Public Radio (NPR) program Public Interest this week, Hutchinson defended the controversial rule, which was issued on 9 October last year. He did admit however that it could be changed following a complete review of the public comments.

“The interpretive rule puts the public and companies on notice as to how we're going to apply and interpret the law... But we seek comments on it and we are obliged and should consider these comments and […] make any adjustments that are reasonably justified and necessary, and then that final rule will be implemented,” he said.

Hutchinson admitted during the programme: “We have received thousands and thousands of comments on this... clearly the public and the industry has submitted their comments and (they) will be considered before any final rule is adopted.”

Also on the programme was Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra, who explained that the rule was “absurd” in banning foods with an infinitesimal trace of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). The THC level in hemp seed and oil is thousands of times below the psychoactive threshold and poses no threat to drug-testing programs, he said.

“We're pleased that the DEA appears to be backpedaling from enforcing their absurd rule, but DEA is misinterpreting the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) period, which clearly exempts sterilized hemp seed and oil.

“We will not stop our grassroots, legal and legislative efforts to ensure nutritious hemp foods remain on over 10,000 store shelves until this rule is invalidated and set aside by either the Court, Congress or DEA itself," said Steenstra.

The rule has spawned protests at DEA offices in 76 cities, a high-profile legal confrontation with the hemp industry, a US$20m NAFTA lawsuit and criticism from thousands of hemp food consumers.

To read more about the rule, visit just-food.com#;s feature of the week (/features_detail.asp?art=597&app=1&fotw=sct).