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Hemp Foods On The Ropes



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Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Benedict Carey, Times Staff Writer
Published: April 28, 2003 
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]

Products containing the active ingredient in marijuana remain on the shelves as a federal court reviews a ruling that would ban them.

They're nutritious, full of fiber -- and nearly impossible to keep lit.

Yet because cereals, snack bars and other foods made with hempseed and hemp oil contain trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the Bush administration has been trying to ban these products -- increasingly popular with health enthusiasts -- for about a year.

But the products will remain on retailers' shelves for now after a U.S. Appeals Court in San Francisco said earlier this month that it would review a federal ruling that such products are illegal. Under a 1970 federal law known as the Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is listed as a controlled substance, along with heroin, ecstasy, LSD and other drugs of abuse, said Will Glaspy, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, whose ruling would prohibit the sale of hemp products. "There seems to be an increase in food products with hemp lately," he said, "and the agency wanted to clarify what the law says."

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a stay of the DEA ruling, which would have gone into effect April 21. The ruling has been under challenge by the Hemp Industries Assn., an Occidental, Calif.-based trade group that contends there is no evidence that hempseed and hemp oil can be abused or that the food products pose a health or safety risk. It could be a year before the court finishes its review of the DEA decision.

Manufacturers of hemp products have been lobbying to stave off the government's effort, which they say could have an adverse effect on the fledgling industry. "I just don't get it," said Steve Levine, president of the Hemp Industries Assn. "I mean, there's more opium in poppy seed bagels than there is THC in these foods."

Flower buds of marijuana plants typically contain 5% to 25% of THC by dry weight, Levine said. By contrast, the hemp harvested to make foods and other products has buds with 0.3% THC content.

Industrial hemp growers, who supply seed and fiber, breed varieties of the marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa, with sufficiently low THC levels that they produce no psychoactive effect in humans, manufacturers say. "No one's getting high on this stuff," said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps in Escondido, which makes products containing hemp. "I feel this is very much a culture war kind of thing, declaring all things cannabis to be bad and comparing it to crack and heroin."

Hemp's long, tough fibers have been used to make ropes, paper and other products for more than a thousand years. For food companies, the appeal of hemp is that it's a relatively cheap source of fiber with a high concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The DEA's Glaspy said the agency has no evidence that hemp foods are causing health problems or are especially habit-forming. Yet the law is the law, he said, and ought to be clarified as soon as possible.

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