In the Public Interest  

On October 9, 2001, the DEA issued rulings which effectively ban hemp foods, products which are clearly not abused as illicit drugs. Food is currently the largest U.S. market for industrial hemp. Concerned citizens should urge their members of Congress to contact DEA and oppose its latest industrial hemp rule making.

by Ralph Nader

DEA Bans Industrial Hemp Foods

Why is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mounting an attack on pastas, cereals and salad dressings, among other products? Instead of spending taxpayer money on more pressing and worthy issues, on October 9, 2001, the DEA issued rulings which effectively ban hemp foods. Industrial hemp is the non-drug cousin of marijuana.

Food is currently the largest U.S. market for industrial hemp. Estimated retail sales for hemp food and body care products in the United States exceeded $25 million in 2000, up from less than $1 million in the early 1990s. Hemp foods and body care products have penetrated the mainstream market and rapid growth was expected prior to DEA's actions. Industrial hemp seed and oil are increasingly used in corn chips, nutrition bars, hummus, nondairy milks, breads and cereals.

Currently, the DEA treats industrial hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance--the most highly restricted category (more tightly controlled than opium or cocaine). Industrial hemp which contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, should not be regulated as an illicit drug, since it has no intoxicating effect when consumed. While the DEA effectively bans growing industrial hemp (largely on the fallacious grounds that agents cannot distinguish the crop from marijuana), until October 9, it permitted use of the product, which can be only imported, in food. Now, the agency is seemingly rolling back the common sense exemption. Last month, DEA issued new rules which prohibit human consumption of any hemp products containing any amount of THC.

DEA's overzealousness in apparently banning products which are clearly not abused as illicit drugs is greatly misguided. The trace amount of THC in hemp foods (typically less than 1.5 and 5 parts per million respectively) are far too low to produce a high and are about as likely to be abused as a poppy seed bagel--which contains trace amounts of opiates.

Virtually all hemp foods on the U.S. market do not contain detectable THC levels, according to the official testing method used on foods in Canada. A recent study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology shows that this minute amount is generally not enough for an individual to fail a highly sensitive drug test--purportedly one of DEA's main concerns--even after eating an unrealistic amount of hemp foods daily.

Poppy seeds are more likely to cause the problems the DEA fears. Poppy seeds' trace opiates have sometimes led individuals, who have merely ingested poppy seed bagels or muffins, to fail a drug test. To this problem, the U.S. government responded sensibly, raising drug-test thresholds for opiates in the 1990s to accommodate the poppy seed industry.

DEA states that it has "attempted to strike a fair balance between protecting the health and safety of all Americans and accommodating legitimate industry." In fact, the apparent ban on hemp foods is a strike both against the burgeoning industrial hemp industry and the health of Americans. It is an attack on the entire industry of industrial hemp, because while the greatest future market for industrial hemp products is predicted to be automobile parts--industrial hemp is an excellent and cost efficient replacement for fiberglass parts--the crop's current largest market is considered to be foods. It is important to maintain the industry now, so that when the United States repeals its irrational restrictions on industrial hemp, it can quickly expand use of this environmentally benign product. (Among its other environmental benefits, industrial hemp can be a particularly sustainable crop which minimizes toxics in our environment, because it can easily be grown with few or no chemicals and its natural brightness avoids chlorine bleaching in papermaking.)

Hemp foods offer real health benefits. Industrial hemp seeds are one of the best source of omega-3 fatty acids in the vegetable kingdom, according to Dr. Andrew Weil--the Harvard educated physician and noted expert on medicinal herbs. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in the protection against many cancers including breast cancer and in the promotion of cardiovascular health. Other health specialists confirm the nutritional value of hemp foods.

Recognizing the various benefits of industrial hemp, in recent years, numerous countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany have amended their industrial hemp laws to legalize the cultivation of the crop and the production of a variety of end-products, such as fuel, paper, building materials, rope, foods, cosmetics and automobile parts. Other countries, such as France, China, Romania and Hungary, having never outlawed the crop, continue to cultivate, manufacture and export industrial hemp.

As the rest of the world moves forward to capture the market potential of this useful and beneficial crop, the DEA has taken the United States a step backward.

Beware, your poppy seed bagel could be next.

Concerned citizens should urge their members of Congress to contact DEA and oppose its latest industrial hemp rule making. Citizens can also write to the Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Diversion Control, Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington, DC 20537, Attention: DEA Federal Register Representative/CCD by December 10, 2001. For other action items, visit the site's Action Alert section. For additional information on the hemp food ban and industrial hemp in general, visit the, and websites.