Pubdate: Thu, 22 Nov 2007
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2007 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press Writer
Cited: Vote Hemp


BISMARCK, N.D.--The federal judge handling two farmers' lawsuit against
the U.S. government over the right to grow industrial hemp says the
matter might be better handled by Congress than the courts.

"Isn't the best remedy to amend the definition of industrial hemp (in
federal law)?" Judge Dan Hovland asked during a recent court hearing.
"To me, it seems like the easiest solution."

North Dakota farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson want Hovland to bar
the federal government from prosecuting them for growing industrial
hemp under state regulations approved last year.

Hemp--which can be used for a variety of products, from rope to skin
lotion--falls under federal anti-drug rules because it has trace
amounts of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol that is
found in its cousin, marijuana.

The Justice Department says federal law classifies hemp as a
controlled substance under Drug Enforcement Administration regulation.
The department's lawyers have asked that Hovland dismiss the farmers'
lawsuit, and the judge pledged to decide by the end of the month.

Hemp "is still marijuana for the purpose of federal law," Justice
Department lawyer Wendy Ertmer told Hovland at the hearing last week.

Joseph Sandler, an attorney for the farmers, said the federal
Controlled Substances Act exempts such products as sterilized hemp
seed and fiber, which is what Hauge and Monson plan to produce. He
also said it is unlikely that farmers Advertisement would used
industrial hemp crops to secretly grow marijuana because their fields
would be documented with the government and subject to search.

In February, Monson and Hauge received their state licenses to grow
industrial hemp, the first such licenses issued in the country. They
were issued under North Dakota Agriculture Department rules approved
late last year.

The licenses are worthless without DEA approval, however, and the
agency has not acted on the farmers' applications. North Dakota
Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson hand-delivered them to the DEA
in mid-February along with the farmers' nonrefundable $2,293 annual
federal registration fees.

The farmers say the DEA's failure to approve their applications
thwarted their plans to get a hemp crop in the ground last spring. The
government says it was not reasonable for the farmers to expect a
quick decision, and that the farmers should wait for a DEA decision
before suing.

Hovland was skeptical that the DEA will ever approve the farmers'
application. "I think we can all sit here and agree it ain't gonna
happen," he said.

Monson called the DEA's inaction on the applications "a de facto
denial," saying the government can simply wait to rule until it is too
late for farmers to plant a crop.

Ertmer and Sandler agreed with Hovland that a change in federal law
might be the best method of dealing with the issue of industrial hemp
cultivation. Hovland said legislation has been introduced in Congress
to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.

Adam Eidinger, a spokesman for Vote Hemp, a nonprofit lobbying group
that is funding the farmers' lawsuit, said hearings on that bill are
not expected until next spring. He said many members of Congress want
to wait on legislation until the North Dakota legal case is resolved.

"Really, North Dakota is a test case," Eidinger said. "If we succeed,
we'll be able to see if farmers can grow the crop. If we fail, it puts
more pressure on Congress to act." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake