U.S. Court hears hemp farmers’ stories

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two North Dakota farmers, who filed a lawsuit in June of 2007 to end the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ban on commercial hemp farming in the U.S., were heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Nov. 12.

The oral arguments before the three-judge panel centered on the farmer’s assertion that because there is no possibility the hemp crop could be diverted into the market for drugs, the Commerce Clause does not allow DEA to regulate industrial hemp farming in North Dakota.

If successful, the landmark lawsuit will lead to the first state-regulated commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in over 50 years.

The court’s decision is not expected until next year.

Saying they’re wrong

The farmers, North Dakota State Rep. David Monson and seed breeder Wayne Hauge, are appealing a decision by the U.S. District Court of North Dakota on a number of grounds.

In particular, the District Court ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as DEA has wrongly contended.

Scientific evidence shows that not only are oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis genetically distinct from drug varieties, but there are absolutely no psychoactive effects gained from eating it.

“Given North Dakota’s unique regulatory regime, nothing leaves the farmer’s property except those parts of the plant Congress has already decided should be exempt from regulation: hemp stalk, fiber seed and oil. The question is whether there is any rational basis for Congressional regulation of the plant itself growing on the farmer’s property,” attorney Joe Sandler argued.

“The answer is no — because industrial hemp is useless as drug marijuana and there’s no danger of diversion, so there’s no possible impact on the market for drug marijuana.”

The other side

The government’s arguments centered on the idea that the plaintiffs should apply to the DEA for permission to grow hemp and that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the issues raised by the farmers.

In nearly a year that the DEA has had the farmers’ application, the agency has refused to rule on them, citing their lack of response as being “out of respect to the pending proceedings.”

“When there is a legitimate constitutional issue brought before us we can hear the case,” Judge Lavenski Smith said.

Background

In 2007, the North Dakota legislature removed the requirement that state-licensed industrial hemp farmers first obtain DEA permits before growing hemp.

The question before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will be whether or not federal authorities can prosecute state-licensed farmers who grow non-drug oilseed and fiber hemp pursuant to North Dakota state law.

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