A federal appeals court on Tuesday affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit by two North Dakota farmers who said they should be allowed to grow industrial hemp without fear of federal criminal prosecution.
Wayne Hauge and David Monson received North Dakota's first state licenses to grow industrial hemp nearly three years ago, but they've never received approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The farmers sued the DEA, and their case has been before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for more than a year after U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed it.
Hemp, which is used to make paper, lotion and other products, is related to the illegal drug marijuana. Under federal law, parts of an industrial hemp plant are considered controlled substances.
Hovland told the farmers the best remedy might be to ask Congress to change the law to explicitly distinguish hemp from marijuana.
"I guess the next step is we'll have to take it to Congress," said Hauge, who grows garbanzo beans and other crops near the northwestern North Dakota town of Ray. "The fastest and easiest way to handle this would be for the president to order the Department of Justice to stand down on all actions against industrial hemp."
Dawn Dearden, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency could not comment on the case.
The farmers' attorney, Tim Purdon of Bismarck, would not comment on the appeals court decision.
David Monson, a Republican state legislator and farmer from Osnabrock in northeastern North Dakota, said Congress likely has no time to deal with the hemp issue.
"With all the other things, hemp is not high on their priority list, and I can understand that," Monson said.
"Somehow, we need to get enough states involved so Congress can take action on it," Monson said.
North Dakota officials issued Monson and Hauge the nation's first licenses to grow industrial hemp in 2007. But without permission from the DEA, the farmers could be arrested for growing the crop.
Hemp contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a banned substance, and it falls under federal anti-drug rules, the DEA says. Hemp proponents say it is safe because it contains only trace amounts of THC, and not enough to produce a high.
Vote Hemp, the lobbying arm of the hemp industry, has helped fund the farmers' legal battle. Spokesman Adam Eidinger said the group has spent about $60,000 to date. He said he was disappointed with Tuesday's ruling.
"The 8th Circuit is kind of conservative, so I can't say I'm totally surprised," he said.
Eidinger said only a handful of states have passed pro-hemp farming laws. He said North Dakota is the first state to craft rules to license industrial hemp farmers.
Monson had planned to seed 10 acres of hemp on his farm the northeastern part of the state. He said hemp is grown 25 miles north of his farm in Canada, where production has been legal since 1998, after 60 years of prohibition.
Hauge said he hopes someday to seed 100 acres of hemp on his farm.
"My great-grand dad homesteaded here more than 100 years ago, with a sod house on the wide-open prairie," Hauge said. "If he could do that, I can stand a small amount of adversity to grow industrial hemp."
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Vote Hemp: http://www.votehemp.com