In a letter sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today [Friday], 22 members of Congress said that their new interpretive rule that bans edible hemp seed or oil items that contain "any THC" is "overly restrictive".

The letter also urged the DEA to "establish realistic standards which take into account current testing technologies and better define trace levels of THC [the hallucenegenic ingredient in marijuana] which are permissible for human use".

Dozens of manufacturers in the US$5m hemp food industry filed suit last fall to challenge the DEA's interpretive rule issued on 9 October 2001. The Controlled Substances Act (see 21 USC §802(16)) exempts hemp seed and oil for human consumption, just like the poppy seed (which contains trace opiates and is commonly consumed on bagels).

As a result of public and court pressure (the DEA received over 115,000 comments in support of hemp products), the DEA extended the "grace period" for disposal of THC containing hemp food products through 18 March 2002. Many companies that ship hemp seed and oil to the US market do not detect any THC in their products, however, and intend along with major US manufacturers and natural market retail chains to continue to sell hemp foods after 18 March.

Earlier this week, the court decided not to rule on whether to Stay the DEA's rule pending ultimate resolution of the case, but rather to expedite the entire case in response to hemp companies filing a motion to stay the DEA rule. Attorneys representing hemp companies will appear before the court on 8 April 2002 in San Francisco to make oral arguments.

"Members of Congress from every state have heard from upset constituents telling them that the DEA has misinterpreted the law that exempts highly nutritious hemp seed and oil from DEA's control," says Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a grassroots organization dedicated to the re-commercialization of industrial hemp.

"Today's letter is evidence that members of congress are responding positively to our grassroots efforts."

Signers of the letter assert, "The Department of Justice shares our position that legitimate hemp food products are safe and legal under current law". They cite a letter sent to the DEA Administrator dated 23 March 2000, from the Chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the US Department of Justice, which concluded that the Controlled Substances Act is clear in allowing for the importation of hemp products. 

The letter was signed by Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Ron Paul(R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI), Connie Morella (R-MD), Martin Sabo (D-MN), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Pete Stark (D-CA), Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Sam Farr (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barney Frank (D-MA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Lynn Rivers (D-MI), William Clay (D-MO) and Jim McDermott(D-WA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) sent his own letter to DEA opposing the rule.

To read a recent feature on hemp foods and the DEA ruling, click here.

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