Letter to Senator Biden  

This letter from Ralph Nader opposes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's new policy which essentially bans industrial hemp foods.

January 30, 2002

Senator Joseph R. Biden
221 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Re: industrial hemp food ban

Dear Senator Biden:

On October 9, 2001, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued rules that banned the sale of industrial hemp foods, beginning February 6, 2002.

Industrial hemp is a non-drug plant with thousands of potential uses from paper to fuel to clothing to building materials to foods. As a food, it has tremendous nutritional value. According to Dr. Andrew Weil—the Harvard-educated physician and noted expert on medicinal herbs, industrial hemp seeds are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids—essential in protection against many cancers and in the promotion of cardiovascular health. As a crop and an industrial product, it has numerous environmental and economic benefits (see enclosed factsheet.)

Other countries take a common sense approach to the plant—Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany have amended their industrial hemp laws to legalize the cultivation of the crop. Countries, such as France, China, Romania and Hungary, having never outlawed the crop continue its cultivation, manufacture and export.

In the United States, a dozen states—Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia—have enacted pro-industrial hemp legislation and resolutions. Industrial hemp has a broad coalition of support in the United States from political leaders such as former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey and commercial interests such as Interface—a $1.2 billion company that has aggressively researched and pursued hemp carpet manufacturing. (See attached sheet for a list of additional commercial interests in industrial hemp.)

This latest assault on hemp by the DEA is counter to the United States' own national policy. As a signatory to international treaties that distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana—analogous to the difference between a St. Bernard and a Chihuahua—the United States itself acknowledges the distinction between the two crops. Furthermore, according to the attached March 23, 2000 letter from the Chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section to the Acting Administrator of the DEA, the current drug laws allow the importation of industrial hemp products including hemp foods. The new rules also run counter to the country's handling of similar substances. For instance, in September 1997, the Department of Health and Human Services accommodated the poppy seed industry—poppy seeds contain trace amounts of opiates—by raising the test-positive threshold in workplace drug testing.

The new rules are only the latest in a string of embarrassing moves on the part of our national law enforcement agencies to overzealously discriminate against industrial hemp. In 1998, a report from the Vermont Auditor General's office uncovered that on average, 99 percent of the "cannabis" seized nationally under the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program (DCE/SP) is ditchweed—feral industrial hemp left over from the 1940s and 1950s when the United States grew the crop as part of the war effort—and not cultivated marijuana used for the illicit drug trade.

In a 1999 maneuver characterized as "one of the more bizarre episodes of Washington's campaign to curb illicit drug use" by The New York Times, the U.S. Customs Service seized a shipment of bird seed from Canada containing sterilized industrial hemp seeds and together with the DEA demanded a recall of hemp products such as animal feed and horse bedding. Eventually, the shipment was released and the recall rescinded.

The newest policy changes are an attack on the industrial hemp business sectors, 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—currently the crop's largest market is considered to be foods. And, while banning hemp foods, the rules reaffirm the right of companies to import and manufacture certain industrial hemp products. Unfortunately, the rules provide no recourse for American farmers who want to grow the crop. All raw industrial hemp materials must be imported from countries such as China and Canada.

Given our expanding incongruous industrial hemp policy, our disproportionate control of the crop and our waste of taxpayer funds eradicating a weed with no value to drug traffickers, there is a great need to have the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee review the way this crop is treated by the DEA. As Chairman with oversight over the DEA, I urge you to call a hearing to scrutinize the latest developments in industrial hemp policy. The Canadian Mounties, the British Bobbies and the French Gendarme have all found a way to address the law enforcement issues associated with industrial hemp while allowing their country's farmers to grow the crop. Our own law enforcement officials should be able to adopt similar standards.


Ralph Nader           Leda Huta