North Dakota wants DEA to leave industrial hemp alone

By Nicholas Zeman
North Dakota is seeking the reintroduction of industrial hemp farming in the United States and ended its legislative session in April by informing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that a state law would allow industrial hemp farmers to operate outside the bounds of DEA regulations and licensing requirements. However, it would not protect those farmers from DEA penalties.

A subsequent lawsuit brought by North Dakota-licensed hemp farmers against the DEA is ongoing. "It's one thing for a state to legalize industrial hemp," said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson. "It's another thing to get the U.S. DEA to go along with it."

Adam Eidinger of Vote Hemp Inc., a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group assisting North Dakota in its efforts, told Biomass Magazine he expected the lawsuit to be filed in the first week of June. "We are actually hoping we get the support of North Dakota State University as a co-plaintiff," Eidinger said. "They have been directed to collect hemp seed for a seed bank by the state department of agriculture but have not done so for fear of their researchers being federally prosecuted for possession of marijuana."

Ten other U.S. states have introduced industrial hemp legislation in 2007, according to vote hemp. Research performed at the University of Missouri indicated that industrial hemp can be grown in most climates and on marginal soils. It requires little or no herbicide and no pesticide, and uses less water than cotton. Considering these traits, industrial hemp is an attractive plant for biofuels production because its cellulosic material can be used to make ethanol, and the oil derived from crushing its seeds could serve as a low-input feedstock for biodiesel.

Johnson granted state hemp licenses to David Monson of Osnabrock, N.D., and Wayne Hauge of Ray, N.D., but they couldn't obtain licenses from the DEA, even after paying a registration fee of approximately $3,000 in early February. The North Dakota farmers wanted the DEA to approve the application before planting season, but that didn't happen. Joseph Rannazzisi, DEA deputy assistant administrator, told North Dakota in a March 27 letter that there wasn't enough time to complete the permitting process. "DEA's latest response is a de facto denial of permission," Johnson responded. "If the applicants cannot have a decision in time to plant the crop, then the applications are meaningless."