The use of hemp in corn chips, frozen waffles and other foodstuffs will be
nipped in the bud next month under a new ruling by the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration.

Any cannabis products intended for human consumption will not be allowed to
be manufactured or sold after April 21, the agency said yesterday.

A trade group representing dozens of companies that mix hemp oils and fiber
into their products - including San Diego County-based Govinda's Fitness
Foods and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap - said it plans to file a brief today in
the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco seeking a stay of the ban.

Several executives at companies distributing hemp-related goods threatened
acts of civil disobedience if the ruling is enforced.

Hemp contains trace elements of the psychoactive substance
tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is found in marijuana. U.S. drug laws
list THC as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

"We expect most of the public to abide by the ban," DEA spokeswoman Rogene
Waite said.

Sales of hemp products rose to $140 million last year, although food
containing hemp accounted for only $6 million of the industry.

Pretzels, tortilla chips, granola and dozens of other edibles are produced
under such brands as Hempola, Nativa and Nature's Path.

The DEA added that the ban does not apply to hemp fiber used in industrial
products such as paper, rope and clothing, and sterilized cannabis seeds
and oils in animal feed and soap.

But companies that use hemp said the exemption likely won't apply to
imported hemp oil and fiber subsequently used in the production of goods.

"They're not exempting the import of actual oil, just the manufactured
product," said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's and chairman of
the Hemp Industry Association's food and oils committee.

The production of hemp is illegal in the United States, and virtually all
of the material used by Dr. Bronner's and other companies is imported from

Under the ban, Dr. Bronner's, which posted revenue of $8 million last year,
said it would have to reformulate virtually its entire product line, a
potentially disastrous turn for the company.

Dr. Bronner's said it has seen its business jump by 50 percent since it
began adding hemp to its health soaps in 1999.

"Our product identity is wrapped up in hemp," Bronner said.

Bronner said he nevertheless is optimistic that the court will issue a stay
of the DEA ruling and ultimately overturn the hemp ban.

The DEA originally issued an "interpretive rule" banning hemp in food in
October 2001. But the circuit court subsequently issued a stay requested by
the hemp industry that remains in effect.

However, the DEA's new "final rules" on the issue will automatically begin
enforcement of the ban next month if unsuccessfully challenged in court,
the agency said.

At Govinda's Fitness Foods, the ban would likely mean the end of production
of its popular Ginger-Chia, Fruit Combo and Carob-Nut hemp bars, which are
marketed with the motto "The Higher Taste."

Govinda's owner Larry Gatpandan could not be reached for comment yesterday
afternoon. But in an interview last year, he estimated that the hemp bars
represent about 20 percent of Govinda's revenue.

Gatpandan also was adamant about hemp's non-psychoactive properties.

"You'd have to eat 500 pounds of hemp to get even a slight buzz," he said
at the time.

Pubdate: Fri, 28 Mar 2003
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.