Introduction to Industrial Hemp Petition  

Industrial hemp, the non-drug cousin of marijuana, is a natural fiber that has a multitude of uses. Current U.S. policy treats industrial hemp as a controlled substance. RCA and a coalition of groups petitioned the Department of Justice to allow the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp.

by Ned Daly

Industrial hemp, which produces the longest and strongest natural fiber in the plant kingdom, is experiencing a renaissance. A number of factors have spurred this new interest in hemp, including the global depletion of forest resources, the excessive use of pesticides for fiber crops and farming communities struggling with economic depression.

Unfortunately, in the United States, hemp the plant is classified as a controlled substance, while hemp the fiber is treated just like any other fiber. Hemp is related to marijuana, but it does not contain psychoactive levels of THC. Still the Drug Enforcement Administration will not allow the growing of industrial hemp.

The result of this policy is that Americans can buy hemp products as long as they are grown in other countries. Other industrialized countries, most recently Canada, England and Germany, have begun to increase their manufacturing of hemp products. These countries see hemp as an important feedstock for many different industries because of its durability, strength, rotational benefits and its prolific fiber production. The federal government even recognizes the importance of hemp. Executive Order #12919, signed by President Clinton, lists hemp as a "strategic crop" essential to national security.

Another consequence of the misguided national hemp policy is that U.S. paper, textile and building materials industries are at a disadvantage in global fiber markets because they do not have available to them all the tools available in other countries. Not having access to hemp fiber may keep U.S. industry out of certain markets or products such as tea bags, medium density fiber boards, certain lubricants or even bibles-- the Guttenber Bible was printed on strong, thin hemp paper, and many bibles published today continue to be printed on hemp paper because of its unique strength and thinness.

The following documents-- a petition to the Drug Enforcement Administration, a petition to the Department of Agriculture and a letter to the office of Management and Budget-- were filed on March 23, 1998 by a coalition of conservation organizations, agricultural interests and businesses in an effort to reintroduce industrial hemp into American agriculture and manufacturing.

The petition to the DEA asks the agency to delist industrial hemp as a controlled substance because it is not a drug nor can it be abused as a drug. The petitioners are asking the DEA to redefine marijuana to exclude industrial hemp from its definition. The petition sent to the Department of Agriculture asks the Department to establish a seed certification program and licensing program for farmers. the letter to OMB simply asks that office to oversee the review and implementation of the two petitions for the Administration.

We decided to include the petitions themselves, rather than an overview of industrial hemp, to give the reader some familiarity with the process as well as the issues involved in the petition. You will find all of the petition documents in The Industrial Hemp Petition. The first item in the petition, the letter to Mr. Arbuckle, provides an excellent description of the process while the final item, the Memorandum in Support of the Petition, supplies the factual support for the petitions.

We chose the petition process over other approaches, such as state legislation or law suits, for two reasons. First, we believe it is the most direct way to rectify the inappropriate classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance. The DEA and federal law ultimately have the power to regulate hemp, even if some states pass laws now pending in their legislatures to grow industrial hemp. Second, it is the best way to engage the DEA, the Department of Justice and the Administration in a discussion of these issues. The Administration has failed to deal with industrial hemp despite the interest among farming organizations and the eleven states which have introduced industrial hemp legislation. This petition forces the Administration to address the issue while giving it a seat at the table in the development of a solution to this problem. Neither federal legislation, state legislation nor lawsuits would afford the Administration the same opportunities.

We have also offered the Administration a very workable process for growing industrial hemp in the United States. The model is based on the growing porcedures in Europe and is gaining support here in the United States. An April 11, 1998 New York Times editorial echoed the position of the petitioners: "To ease law enforcement's fears, proponents have offered a compromise. The agency would revise its rules to legalize hemp but award jurisdiction to the Agriculture Department. Agriculture would distribute certified seed with a THC level of one percent or less to farmers it licensed; it would inspect fields too. The marketplace, not myopic rules, should determine hemp's future in America." We believe that ultimately the federal government will lift the existing restrictions on growing industrial hemp.