- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

Consuming a chunk of organic health food is a act of drug abuse in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration — if it contains, as some snacks do, hemp as an ingredient.

An appeals court in Alaska says residents can possess up to a quarter-pound of pot for their own use.

In a Zogby poll conducted last month in New Hampshire, 84 percent of voters said they supported changing federal law to allow patients to use medicinal marijuana without fear of arrest.

Marijuana continues its beeline for the mainstream after years of reefer madness. Federal officials are ready to do battle, with the next target being hemp as food.

While it sounds simple enough — one side of mostly pro-marijuana advocates looking to climb another rung on the ladder toward pot tolerance — the fact that the hemp food case even has legs portrays the continued move toward societal legitimacy of the illegal weed.

“There is a lot more tolerance for marijuana,” said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which favors pot legalization and most other liberalization of marijuana laws. “And it appears that there are more people rallying around this issue.”

What people are not seeing, said Ed Childress, a DEA spokesman in Washington, “is the marijuana-legalization lobby at work behind the scenes, with better resources.”

Two years ago, DEA head Asa Hutchinson said that foods using seeds from the hemp plant violated federal law. He ordered a crackdown on the foods, but his dictate was stayed by a court order.

Courtroom wrangling has drawn out the battle. For now, purveyors of the products are free to sell. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will begin hearing arguments in the case next week.

“It was really a matter of hemp not existing as something that can be consumed,” said Richard Meyer, a DEA spokesman in San Francisco.

If the DEA gets its way, insisting that hemp-as-food violates federal law, Lynn Gordon says, she stands to lose $800,000.

Miss Gordon’s Minneapolis-based French Meadow Bakery produces, among other things, bread with hemp seeds as a primary ingredient. She distances herself from the pro-pot lobby.

“I don’t advocate marijuana use, I don’t smoke marijuana,” Miss Gordon said. But her multigrain Healthy Hemp bread uses hemp seeds that she purchases legally from Canada, where hemp plants are grown for industrial use and consumption. “This is not to get people high, it is something that tastes good.”

Hemp-food advocates say sterilized hemp seed and oil are exempt from the Controlled Substances Act under the statutory definition of marijuana, just as poppy seeds are exempted under the statutory definition of the opium poppy.

The growing support for marijuana in all forms is at odds with a federal government that has gone to great lengths to fight it. Increasing leniency, such as that in Alaska, eventually could doom the federal efforts.

“I do not believe in drugs,” said Erwin A. Sholts, chairman of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, which advocates the use of hemp for both food and industrial use. “But if the DEA doesn’t wake up and smell the flowers, there may be something passed in Congress that they can’t live with.”

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