Trade Group Sues DEA Over Attempted Hemp Regulations


In 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the DEA may not, in perpetuity, attempt to regulate hemp or its byproducts, including stalks, fibers, sterilized seeds, or oils, as these components are excluded from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana.

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), the preeminent trade group of hemp farmers and business owners, filed a motion yesterday to sue the Drug Enforcement Administration for violating that 2004 Appellate Court ruling. The HIA contends that the DEA is in contempt of court by refusing to accept and abide by the decision.

“We will not stand idly by while the DEA flouts the will of Congress, violates the Ninth Circuit order, and harasses honest hemp producers trying to make a living with this in-demand crop,” declared HIA Executive Director Colleen Keahey. “Hemp is a healthy superfood with vital nutrients such as Omegas 3 and 6, protein, fiber and all 10 essential amino acids that are ideal for today’s family. The DEA must stop treating hemp, hempseed and hempseed oil, which is a nutritious ingredient, as something illicit. We have to address the challenges that thwart the domestic industry’s progress and especially those that mislead state Departments of Agriculture and limit entry of legal hemp products into the marketplace.”

The February 2004 Circuit Court decision was the end result of a lengthy bout between the DEA and the HIA, after the oft-misguided law enforcement agency made repeated attempts to control hemp production. The courtroom battle began in 2001, when the DEA attempted to ban hemp seeds and food products that contained any hempseed oil, regardless of the negligible THC content of the plant. The Hemp Industries Association countered with the “Hemp Food Rules Challenge,” a lawsuit that aimed to block the DEA’s ability to implement their ban. The final court decision on the matter stated that the DEA did not follow protocol in attempting to schedule hemp on the CSA, and that Congress never intended for non-psychoactive components to be included in the prohibition of marijuana.

From the 2004 Circuit Court Ruling:

We held further that the listing of THC in Schedule I, as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, applied only to synthetically-created THC. We reasoned that “if naturally-occurring THC were covered under THC, there would be no need to have a separate category for marijuana, which obviously contains naturally-occurring THC. Yet Congress maintained marijuana as a separate category.” Hemp I, 333 F.3d at 1089. We concluded that THC naturally-occurring within non-psychoactive hemp products did not fall under the DEA’s regulation…

How is the DEA breaking the law?

At the close of 2016, North Dakota hemp producer Healthy Oilseeds, LLC was notified by the DEA that by distributing hemp products without a permit they were violating the Controlled Substances Act. Specifically, the DEA demanded that Healthy Oilseeds register for a DEA permit for their products, opening the company up to regulation by the government entity. The company was told they must halt distribution “because industrial hemp is a Schedule I controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”

However, the DEA was in violation of the Farm Bill by making these demands, as industrial hemp is considered a separate product from marijuana altogether and therefore legal to grow and process so long as the cultivator is licensed. Additionally, the DEA flew in the face of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, a groundbreaking law that barred any government agency from using federal funds to inhibit the “transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp…within or outside the State in which the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.” According to that decision, the DEA had zero grounds to require Healthy Oilseeds to submit for regulation, especially to distribute their products over state lines.

“Thirteen years ago DEA was told in no uncertain terms by the U.S. Court of Appeals that Congress had made its intent clear: DEA has no power to regulate hemp seed and oil, and the hemp food and beverage products made from them,” explained HIA’s lead counsel Joe Sandler. “It is disappointing that the industry has to revisit the issue, and take this step to compel DEA to obey the law.”

If you’d like to read the entire new lawsuit against the DEA, you can find it here.