Pubdate: Tue, 02 Oct 2001
Source: Honolulu Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2001 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Author: Christie Wilson, Neighbor Island Editor


Federal drug enforcement officials are proposing new regulations that would 
outlaw food and body-care products that contain hemp. Hemp products are 
sold in Hawai'i through major retail chains such as The Body Shop, which 
offers hemp-based soaps and lotions, and smaller stores like Hemp House in 
Pa'ia, Maui.

Hemp House owner Kathy Barr said she uses hemp oil in her lotions because 
it is a long-lasting moisturizer that is easily absorbed into the skin. 
"It's our best-selling product and to have that cut out would have a big 
impact on us," she said.

The rules proposed by the Drug Enforcement Administration would allow "the 
continuation of what have historically been considered legitimate industry 
uses of hemp such as paper, rope and clothing." However, the line is drawn 
at products that would introduce even trace amounts of THC into the human body.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound that gives marijuana its 
euphoric effect.

David West, a seed geneticist who oversees Hawai'i's hemp research project, 
said policymakers fail to recognize the botanical distinctions between 
industrial hemp and its more potent cannabis cousin, marijuana.

The THC levels in hemp are so low that you can't get high from smoking it. 
In fact, West said, hemp contains a high level of an "antipsychoactive" 
compound that blocks the marijuana high.

There are fears the DEA rules would damage a fledgling U.S. industry that 
is trying to revive itself after being virtually wiped out in the last 
century by anti-drug policies. Vote Hemp Inc., a nonprofit group that 
advocates deregulation of industrial hemp, said sales of hemp-based food 
and body-care products hit $25 million last year, up from $2 million in 1997.

Opposing Force

The 300-member Hemp Industries Association, formed in 1994, will organize 
opposition to the proposed regulations during its convention Thursday 
through Sunday in Kihei.

Barr, one of nine HIA members in Hawai'i, has a manufacturing operation in 
Florida that makes hemp-based shampoo, conditioner, body lotions, bath gel 
and sunscreen under the Hemp House Pa'ia label. She sells her products at 
her shop and online, and wholesales to Mainland stores.

"It's ridiculous. The amount of THC is not going to make any difference in 
drug tests or how you feel," she said.

Mike Smith of Eclectacare Botanics on the Big Island is the Hawai'i 
wholesaler for Hemp-n-Heat, an analgesic gel made in Colorado. He said 
businesses that deal in hemp products are at the mercy of government rules.

"We do what we can with political-type means," said Smith of opposition to 
hemp restrictions. "Our company fully believes in the possibility of hemp 
and hemp products."

Several Concerns

Big Island hemp advocate Roger Christie said uncertainty over government 
acceptance of hemp products makes it difficult for businesses to find 
investors and to develop markets.

The DEA gave notice in the May 14 Federal Register that it intends to 
publish the rules regarding hemp, saying they are necessary "in order to 
protect public health and safety." The rules would clarify that THC is 
listed as a controlled substance, even if it originates from hemp.

A DEA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not comment on 
proposed rules before they are formally published in the Federal Register. 
However, the May 14 notice said officials had received numerous inquiries 
from members of the public about the legal status of products made from 
hemp. There also are concerns that use of some hemp products could result 
in positive drug tests.

The HIA and other hemp advocates argue that natural trace amounts of THC 
pose no health risk; that the DEA does not have the legal authority to 
issue such rules; and that the rules are outside the scope of the 
Controlled Substances Act.

Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra said the organization will consider a 
court challenge if the DEA rules go into effect.

"Even though DEA has proposed these changes, they are not required to 
follow through and we hope common sense will prevail once they have 
evaluated our objections," he said.

To address concerns about certain hemp products affecting the results of 
workplace drug tests, the TestPledge program was developed to assure 
consumers they would not receive a confirmed positive test for marijuana 
from normal consumption of hemp foods or use of body-care products.

Participating manufacturers agree to keep THC levels in shelled hemp seed 
and oil levels below what might trigger a positive drug test, even when 
these products are consumed in high amounts on a daily basis.

During the Maui convention, West and state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-49th 
(Kailua), will speak at a public event Friday night.

Hawai'i is one of 12 states that have passed legislation supporting 
research or deregulation of industrial hemp, said HIA spokeswoman Mari 
Kane. Of those states, only Hawai'i and North Dakota have planted test 
plots, she said.

In 1999, Thielen co-authored the state law that created the Hawai'i 
Industrial Hemp Research Project on a quarter-acre plot at Whitmore Village 
on O'ahu. West runs the project.

Hemp Can Be Economic Boon

The DEA set strict guidelines for the Hawai'i research project in exchange 
for approving the required permits. The requirements included a 
10-foot-high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and an infrared 
security system.

With myriad uses such as fabric, fiberboard, paper, rope and fuel, Thielen 
and others say they believe hemp can be a means of economic development in 
the Islands, especially since the demise of sugar throughout most of the state.

West said last week that he is continuing his work to collect and breed 
different varieties of hemp from around the world to develop genetic 
material for what hemp advocates hope will become a successful agribusiness 
in the United States.

The project's initial sponsor, Alterna Hair Care, a Los Angeles-based 
company that uses hemp in its hair shampoos and conditioners, is no longer 
involved. West declined to reveal the source of financial support, 
emphasizing the project receives no government financing.

A $5 donation is requested for those attending Friday's public event, which 
starts at 7 p.m. in the Auntie Aloha Longhouse at the Maui Lu Resort, 575 
S. Kihei Road.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens