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Feature: North Dakota Farmers Sue DEA Over Hemp Growing Ban

Two North Dakota farmers Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court in Bismarck seeking to overturn the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ban on growing industrial hemp in the United States. The lawsuit seeks a court order barring the DEA from charging the farmers with a criminal violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempharvest.jpg
hemp being harvested (courtesy Wikipedia)
Hemp products are legal in the US, but the DEA ban prevents US farmers from growing it, meaning domestic hemp product makers must turn to suppliers in countries where it is legal to grow, including Canada, China, and most of Europe.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but unlike the marijuana consumed by recreational and medical marijuana users, contains only tiny amounts of the psychoactive substance that gets marijuana users "high." But the DEA argues that hemp is marijuana and that the CSA gives it authority to ban it.

The farmers and their attorneys disagree, pointing out that the CSA contains language explicitly exempting hemp fiber, seed oil, and seed incapable of germination from the definition of "marihuana" and are thus not controlled substances under that law. That same language was used to allow the legal import of hemp into the US as a result of a 2004 federal court decision siding with the hemp industry against the DEA.

But while the language of the CSA appears clear, ambiguities remain, said Adam Eidinger, a spokesman for the hemp industry lobby group Vote Hemp. "There is a contradiction in the law when it comes to growing the plant, because you can't grow the plant without producing seeds and flowers, and the DEA claims the act gives it authority over those parts of the plant," he told Drug War Chronicle. "In this case, we have to look at Congress's intent in passing the law, and we think it is clear that Congress intended that hemp be excluded," he said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempforvictory1.jpg
WWII-era federal film encouraging hemp growing for war effort
Monday's lawsuit is only the latest move in a decade-old struggle by North Dakota farmers to grow hemp. The state first passed hemp legislation in 1997, but things really began moving when state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, a strong hemp supporter, issued the first state permits to grow hemp to farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson (who is also a Republican state legislator) on February 6. One week later, Hauge and Monson sent a request to the DEA requesting licenses to grow their crops and noting that they needed a response by early April in order to get the crops in the ground this year.

The DEA failed to respond in a timely fashion. According to a March 27 DEA letter to Ag Commissioner Johnson, seven weeks was not enough time for the agency to arrive at a ruling on the request. That letter was the final straw for the North Dakotans.

"We are asking the DEA to do nothing, which is exactly what they have done for ten years," said Tim Purdon, one of the attorneys working for Monson and Hauge, at a Monday press conference announcing the lawsuit. "North Dakota's rules no longer require a DEA license, so we are basically asking the court to tell the DEA to leave our farmers alone."

"I applied for my North Dakota state license in January and was hopeful that the DEA would act quickly and affirm my right to plant industrial hemp this year. Unfortunately, the DEA has not responded in any way other than to state that it would take them a lot more time than the window of time I have to import seed and plant the crop," said Rep. Monson. "It appears that the DEA really doesn't want to work with anyone to resolve the issue," Monson added.

"I met with the DEA in February and presented copies of the licenses along with the applications from Hauge and Monson and the checks for the application fee and asked them to please review those applications as soon as possible," said Commissioner Johnson, who noted he had also met with the agency the previous year in an effort to smooth the way. "The DEA did not respond. It was a de facto denial of the applications, which led us to the point of filing this lawsuit," he said. "My strong opinion is that the DEA needs to get off this kick of viewing industrial hemp and marijuana as identical. They need to exercise their discretion to view them differently, like every other industrial country does."

In addition to its obstinate refusal to differentiate between hemp and marijuana, the DEA has also expressed concerns that lawmen would be unable to tell the difference between the two and that people would hide marijuana plants in the middle of hemp fields. That's all bunk, said California cannabis and hemp cultivation expert Chris Conrad.

"First off, this is not a problem for Canadian, British, German, French, and Spanish police, so why are American cops so incompetent compared to the rest of the world, and why should we coddle them for that rather than demand they do their jobs?" he asked. "Also, the fields are registered and police will have the power to enter and inspect at will, so it would be stupid to tell the cops where you're growing, then try to hide marijuana in the field," Conrad pointed out.

The two crops are grown differently for different ends, Conrad noted. "Marijuana is grown for flowering branches, whereas hemp is grown for either stalk or seeds. The stalk crop can be harvested before it flowers, so there would never, ever be any marijuana buds produced." Also, Conrad pointed out, hemp grows straight up and the plants are spaced only a few inches apart, while marijuana plants are shorter and bushier. "Marijuana plants look very different from hemp plants and would be conspicuous from the other plants, especially in an aerial flyover where you would see the area around the marijuana being cleared out from the hemp plants. It's very easy to identify a marijuana patch in a hemp field, and if there is a marijuana plant, it hempifies [is pollinated by the hemp plants] and goes away."

The science and agriculture of hemp probably have little to do with the DEA's intransigent insistence that hemp is marijuana, said Vote Hemp's Eidinger. "This is part of the culture war," he suggested. "When Jack Herer published "The Emperor Has No Clothes" in the early 1980s, the DEA began seeing the call for industrial hemp as part of weakening the links of the criminalization of marijuana." Publication of Herer's book led to a revitalization of interest in industrial hemp, but also associated hemp with the marijuana culture, rather than staid farmers like Hauge and Monson.

Regardless of the past, the state of North Dakota and its farmers are now tired of being collateral damage in the war on drugs, and now they have initiated the legal action that could resolve the issue once and for all.

Breaking: Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Law Now Permanent

I've just been informed that the Rhode Island House has passed medical marijuana again, this time making the law permanent.

RI Gov. Donald Carcieri has twice vetoed this bill, and now looks doubly foolish. Not only has he attempted to stand between deserving patients and their medicine, but he has failed dramatically and repeatedly.

This great victory is testament to the wisdom and compassion of the Rhode Island House and Senate, as well as the hard work of countless patients, activists, and organizations who fought and won this unnecessarily drawn-out battle.

The political future of medical marijuana remains bright as ever before.

Update: Jon Perri at DARE Generation Diary credits the major players.

Location: 
United States

Strategy to Reduce Drug Injection-Related AIDS in California Gains Support

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
California Progress Report (CA)
URL: 
http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2007/06/strategy_to_red.html

Giuliani's Cocaine Connection

This post is a little more sympathetic than the title might seem to suggest. One of the big news stories today was the indictment of Rudy Giuliani's now-former South Carolina campaign chairman Thomas Ravenel, the state's now-suspended Treasurer, on federal cocaine distribution charges. Drug policy academic Mark Kleiman points out that Ravenel does not appear to have been a drug dealer:
The other guy indicted in the case seems to be the dealer. Ravenel seems to have been one of his customers, who bought cocaine in quantity to share with friends. Under federal law, there's no crime of selling drugs; the crime is "distribution," which includes giving the stuff away.
(Talking Points Memo, linking to Kleiman, observes that Ravenel would have been buying for "what was probably going to be a pretty big bash".) Ravenel should be considered innocent until proven guilty, of course, and Kleiman points out what I think is a pretty good reason why:
The most likely scenario here: The state cops nailed the dealer (he was already in custody on state charges when the indictment was handed up yesterday), and the dealer gave them a prominent customer in order to buy himself some consideration at sentencing time.
As a legalizer, I have to have some sympathy for anyone caught up in the drug war's headlights. Still, Ravenel was a political official at the highest levels in a state that has some real "tough on drugs" policies in place. Unless he was actively involved in working for serious drug policy reform -- and I'm not aware that he was -- and assuming the accusations made against him are accurate, there's a hypocrisy angle here. Furthermore, the candidate he was involved in trying to elect as president, Rudy Giuliani, is a drug warrior who increased arrests in New York when he was mayor, who tried to shut down methadone maintenance in the city, and who opposes needle exchange and medical marijuana. It's especially hypocritical for a drug user to chair a state campaign for a drug warrior trying to be president, who would presumably continue to be a drug warrior if elected president. Then again, maybe Ravenel intended to quietly lobby Giuliani to shift his views/policies on drugs. I tend to doubt it, but I don't know the guy so I can't say for sure. As for Giuliani, did he have no idea about his friend's (alleged) drug proclivities, or no one who could inform him about them? I've heard from a knowledgeable source that when Giuliani was the US Attorney in New York, the safest place to sell drugs was in front of City Hall. Bottom line: If you're a top-level state official, it's probably not a good idea to organize all-out (all night?) cocaine fests. But if you are in the habit of organizing cocaine fests, speak out against the war on drugs too, so at least people won't think you're a hypocrite if you get caught. Actually, speak out against the drug war in any case. (This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Location: 
SC
United States

DPA Press Release: Governor Rell Ignores Will of Voters and Legislators and Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 19, 2007 CONTACT: Lorenzo Jones, T: (860) 270-9586 or Gabriel Sayegh, T: (646) 335-2264 Governor Rell Vetoes Medical Marijuana Bill, Changing Her Reasons for Opposition to Issue Yet Again Compassionate Use Bill Would Have Protected Patients With Debilitating Illnesses From Arrest, Prosecution Patients, Community Members Ask: Governor Rell, As a Cancer Survivor, How Do You Sleep At Night While Patients In Our State Continue to Be Criminalized for Seeking Relief? HARTFORD, CT—Today, Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed HB 6715, the Compassionate Use Act. The bill would have allowed certain patients with debilitating illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes as recommended by their physician. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 23-13 after clearing the House of Representatives by an 89-58 vote weeks earlier, both of which were wide margins. By passing HB 6715, the Legislature ended a five-year legislative battle to win medical marijuana in a state that has overwhelming public support for the issue. A 2004 University of Connecticut poll found that 83 percent of Connecticut residents support the medical use of marijuana. Dozens of community organizations, including the CT Nurses Association, support allowing patients to access medical marijuana when recommended by their physician. “I am just 32 years old and yet due to my medical condition I feel as if, at times, I am 92,” said Joshua Warren, a patient in Wilton, CT, who suffers from chronic neurological Lyme disease. “I did not ask for this condition nor would I wish any of my pain and other symptoms on anyone else. If Gov. Rell had any compassion for people like me who are suffering with horrible pain and other debilitating illnesses, she would have signed this bill.” After the bill’s passage, patients, doctors, family members and advocates mounted a massive letter and phone call campaign urging the Governor to sign the bill. The Governor was receiving hundreds of phone calls and letters every day in support of medical marijuana, including from medical, legal, and health experts from across the country. “The Governor’s veto message shows that she’s grasping for straws,” said Lorenzo Jones, executive director of A Better Way Foundation. “She said previously that she’d support the bill if it was only for terminally ill patients, because clearly other treatments are not sufficient. Now she says she’s vetoing the bill because it’s still illegal under federal law, even though over 99% of all marijuana arrests are under state law. She has been so evasive on this that it makes one wonder if she hasn’t gotten a call from Washington. Is she taking the advice from the worst administration in history over the demands of 83% of Connecticut residents?” Thousands of Connecticut residents live with crippling pain, are suffering with cancer and HIV/AIDS, or other debilitating ailments. HB 6715 would have allowed Connecticut residents with certain debilitating medical conditions to cultivate and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a practicing physician. “It’s unconscionable that Rell would ignore all the science to veto this bill,” said Gabriel Sayegh, project director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The medical efficacy of marijuana is unassailable pain and suffering and are, as a result of this veto, still considered criminals?” Currently, there are 12 states with medical marijuana laws. New Mexico passed its medical marijuana bill in March. Last month, the Rhode Island legislature voted to make their state law permanent, and last week Vermont’s legislature voted to expand their medical marijuana law. Other medical marijuana bills are currently under consideration in New Jersey, New York and Alabama. Dawn Fuller Ball, President of A Better Way Foundation said, “In Governor Rell’s veto letter, she admits that the current legal pharmacology alternatives to medical marijuana are insufficient and that the State law enacted in 1981 is unworkable, yet the Governor continues to choose politics over patients.” Background Info: Governor Rell is Saying NO to Medical Marijuana When Connecticut Says YES: - CT's voters voted YES (83% approval rating in polls from UCONN polls to media polls) - Five Separate Legislative Committees voted YES - The House of Representatives voted YES (89-58) - The Senate voted YES (23-13) - This is a Republican sponsored bill (By some of most respected Republicans in the House and Senate) - The Black and Latino Caucus supports this bill (The President and Treasurer met with Rell's staff) - Faith Based Institutions voted YES (National and local pastors and Bishops have contacted Governor Rell) - Doctors, nurses, patients, and caregivers testified, wrote letters and called the Governor’s office on behalf of medical marijuana. ###
Location: 
Hartford, CT
United States

Daly blasts mayor for drug rehab cuts

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/20/BAGBPQIBV21.DTL

A drug-war setback

Location: 
MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Baltimore Sun (MD)
URL: 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-md.bupe20jun20,0,6881220.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

Medical Marijuana Measure Falls With Connecticut Governor’s Veto

Location: 
Stamford, CT
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/20/nyregion/20rell.html

Medical marijuana: New York is waiting to inhale

Location: 
Albany, NY
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Buffalo News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.buffalonews.com/home/story/101789.html

Veteran using medical pot fights arrest

Location: 
Centennial, CO
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Denver Post (CO)
URL: 
http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_6143690

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