Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jun 2014
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Rob Hotakainen, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau Page: A8


Senate Oks Plan for Research

DEA Continues to Enforce Prohibition

WASHINGTON - By any measure, the U.S. hemp industry is playing a hot
hand these days.

Retail sales of hemp products jumped by a whopping 24 percent last
year, with Americans gobbling up a record amount of food, lotions,
soaps, clothing, paper products and even auto parts made from hemp

While growing hemp remains illegal as a drug banned by the federal
government, experimental plots have been planted in Kentucky and
Colorado since Congress approved them for research purposes this year.

A bipartisan coalition is growing, with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of
Kentucky boasting last year that he owns a hemp shirt and Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack suggesting in March that Ukraine might
ultimately provide the United States with a good supply of industrial
hemp seeds.

On Thursday, the hemp industry showed its new muscle on Capitol Hill,
persuading the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a plan that
would block federal agencies from spending money to enforce anti-hemp
laws in states, including Washington, that have received permission to
grow the plant. The vote, on an amendment to a larger spending bill,
was 22-8.

The proposal emerged after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
last month seized a shipment of Italian hemp seeds destined for Kentucky.

Eventually, the state got its seeds back, but only after filing a
lawsuit against the federal government.

"DEA is a bit of a lost, rogue agency. They just don't get it," said
Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association,
a trade group that represents hundreds of hemp businesses. "They've
been continuing to sort of have a hard time accepting the new reality."

Craig Lee, a board member of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
Association in Lexington, said hemp provided a big opportunity for his
state, especially with the troubles facing the tobacco industry. But
he said it made little sense to have federal drug-enforcement agents
thwart efforts to revive the crop, which thrived in the state decades

"We need to stop the DEA," Lee said. "That organization needs to be
taken down at the knees and disbanded. Get totally rid of it and throw
it in the grave with Richard Nixon."

Plan implementation

The Senate committee vote could go a long way in determining the power
of states to implement their hemp plans, since the full House passed a
similar plan last week, approving two similar amendments offered by
Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie and Oregon Democratic Rep.
Suzanne Bonamici. The issue now will go to the full Senate for a final
vote, which is expected this month.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top-ranking Republican on the
Appropriations Committee, said it's a mistake for Congress to tie the
hands of the DEA. "Prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration
from enforcing ... our drug laws sets, I believe, a dangerous
precedent," he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also voted against the plan, said
Congress already allowed the importation of hemp seed as long as
states registered with the DEA. "This is not a burdensome process,"
she said.

Sen. Jon Tester, DMont., who's also a farmer, backed the amendment,
saying hemp could provide big marketing opportunities and serve as a
lucrative alternative crop. "This isn't the stuff you smoke," he said.
"If you smoke this stuff, you've got to smoke like 80 pounds to get a
buzz, OK?"

The industry has one particularly powerful ally on Capitol Hill:
Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. He
teamed up with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to offer the amendment when
Senate appropriators set 2015 spending levels for the Justice
Department, which oversees the DEA.

No interference

Kentucky and Colorado are among 15 states - the others are California,
Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon,
Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia - allowed to
grow hemp for academic and research purposes by meeting conditions set
out in the latest farm bill, which Congress passed in January,
according to Vote Hemp, a group lobbying to legalize hemp. Pro-hemp
bills have been introduced in 33 states in recent years, including 25
this year, the group said.

Steenstra called it "pretty shocking" to have federal agents seize
Kentucky's hemp seeds so soon after Congress approved the

"Clearly, Congress authorized this activity," he said. "They didn't
intend for the DEA to be blocking it."

Merkley told his colleagues that states and research universities
should be allowed to proceed with hemp research projects without

"We've had some obstruction of those research efforts," he

The DEA had no immediate comment on Thursday's vote, but
law-enforcement officials have long complained that hemp and marijuana
look so much alike that they can be distinguished only by a chemical

While hemp advocates say their crop shouldn't be part of the
marijuana-legalization debate, legalization opponents say people can
easily grow marijuana and hide it under the guise of hemp.

Michele Leonhart, who heads the DEA, is among the fiercest anti-hemp
officials in the Obama administration. In January, she told a
sheriffs' group that the low point of her 33-year career came last
July 4, when Congress allowed a hemp flag to fly over the Capitol.

Steenstra said Congress was sending a clear message to the DEA to back
off hemp growers, marking yet another win for the industry. "It's
clear that we're in a new phase here," he said.


About hemp

Hemp is the nonintoxicating sister plant of marijuana, which Congress
banned as a controlled substance in 1970. Both come from the same
species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has only a trace of THC, the
chemical that produces a high. Under federal law, it's legal to buy
and sell hemp products but illegal to grow or cultivate the plant.
Hemp backers complain that they're forced to rely on imported hemp oil
to keep their industry going. They say Congress should make it easier
for states to capitalize on the business.

McClatchy Washington Bureau
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