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N.D. Hemp Production: Federal Hang-Up Holds Off Seeding

PFlynn

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The hang-up is not with North Dakota, but with the federal government. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has yet to act on their 2007 application, according to Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock.

Monson and Wayne Hauge, Ray, N.D., received state licenses for industrial hemp in 2007. At the time, they were required to submit their applications to the DEA as well. When the DEA failed to take action on the applications in time to plant last year, the two farmers sued the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed the lawsuit in late fall, saying federal law considers industrial hemp to be the same as marijuana, which is an illegal drug. In his ruling, Hovland suggested asking Congress to change the definition of industrial hemp to explicitly distinguish it from marijuana.

Monson and Hauge then appealed the ruling 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. They have argued the federal government should not be allowed to interfere in a state-regulated hemp production initiative.

In the meantime, the DEA informed Monson and Hauge that they failed to meet a Jan. 12 deadline for filing a response to questions about the application.

Monson said the paperwork was filed in the DEA's Chicago office by the deadline. But the DEA has said it was not received in the right office by the deadline, and therefore, the application is considered to be withdrawn, according to Monson.

Monson said their lawyers are confident the disagreement over the filing deadline will be worked out, but it likely will result in a delay in the process.

The North Dakota Legislature attempted to address the issue in 2007 by approving two bills: one allows anyone with a state license to import or resell industrial hemp, the other provides that state licenses are not conditional upon or subject to DEA review or approval.

"It really didn't change anything, in a practical matter," Monson said of the new state law. "I can't import the seed without their approval, and if we did plant without their approval, I have no assurance that they wouldn't come out and destroy the crop."

Hemp falls under federal anti-drug rules because it has trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical THC that is found in marijuana. The application filed by Monson and Hauge states that they would import certified hemp seed with low content of THC from sources in Canada, where industrial hemp is legal.

Hemp supporters say research has concluded that people cannot get a "high" from hemp and that the North Dakota regulations ensure that only legal parts of the plant, such as fiber and seed, would be cultivated.

Hovland's ruling last fall agreed with the federal government that state regulations do not trump federal law, which considers hemp a controlled substance.

Still, Monson hopes that the DEA will review and approve their application.

"The application I filed with the DEA last year is not acted upon," he said. "They're still saying they're working on it. If that information was received in a timely fashion, that application should be valid, and it's good for a year, if they act on it."

Monson said he hopes to get a decision from DEA by early spring so he can order seed and make plans for planting the crop.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said that even though the state has approved their 2008 applications, he does not think the issue will be settled anytime soon.

"Although other states are beginning to follow North Dakota's lead in legalizing the production of industrial hemp, it very well may be up to the courts to bring about the necessary recognition of industrial hemp as a legitimate crop," he said. "Congress seems to have little stomach for the matter, and it is highly unlikely that DEA will change its stand and choose to exercise its discretion to differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana."


Source: Grand Forks Herald (ND)
Copyright: 2008 Grand Forks Herald
Contact: letters@gfherald.com
Website: Grand Forks Herald
 
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