HIA petitions DEA to remove industrial hemp from controlled substance list: ‘It has no potential whatsoever for drug abuse’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hemp seeds are used in everything from non-dairy beverages to protein bars
Hemp seeds are used in everything from non-dairy beverages to protein bars

Related tags: Industrial hemp, Hemp

The Hemp Industries Association and the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council have filed a petition with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to remove industrial hemp plants from its list of controlled substances.

Industrial hemp – a safe and legal food ingredient permitted in the US market - is not the same as marijuana, and it won’t get you high.

The confusion arises because hemp comes from Cannabis sativa, the same plant species as marijuana, but contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that delivers the ‘high’.

However, while it is legal to sell and consume​ foods and beverages containing hemp seeds in the US (which is the world's largest consumer of hemp products), the US regards all forms of cannabis as Schedule I substances (along with cocaine), and is the only major industrialized country that outlaws domestic hemp production (except for research purposes/ag pilots in select states permitted by the 2014 Farm Bill​), forcing companies to source most of their hemp from Canada, Europe and China, says the petition.

In 2015, bills that would legalize industrial hemp production in the US at a federal level were introduced in the House and Senate, H.R. 525​ and S. 134​ respectively. 

“The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) treats industrial hemp plants the same as drug marijuana plants solely because they are of the same species, even though industrial hemp has no potential whatsoever for drug abuse​,” says the petition, which is calling for the DEA to remove industrial hemp plants, defined as cannabis plants having no greater than 0.3% THC by dry weight, from Schedule 1.

While the DEA rejected a similar petition in 2000, two things had changed since then, argues the petition.

"First, in 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the naturally-occurring THC in cannabis plants is not itself a controlled substance under the CSA. Thus, the industrial hemp plant is not a plant that 'contains' a controlled substance; rather it is a controlled substance solely by virtue of being the same species as the drug marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa L.).

"Second, Congress itself has now (via the 2014 Farm Bill) specifically defined and identified industrial hemp as a plant different from other, drug marijuana Cannabis plants."

Ingestion of industrial hemp does not cause false positives for marijuana in drug tests

The petition also explains that ingestion of industrial hemp "does not cause false positives" ​for marijuana: "A widely-recognized 2001 controlled study concluded that daily ingestion of up to 0.6 mg of THC did not produce confirmed positive urine THC results."

Meanwhile, concerns that farmers will mix the drug marijuana plant with their industrial hemp crops are unfounded, argues the petition, not least because cross-pollination with industrial hemp would significantly lower the THC content - and thus degrade the value of - the marijuana crop.

"Even more significantly, pollen from male hemp plants will cause female marijuana flowers to go to seed, rendering such marijuana almost worthless."

On a more practical level, it adds: "Industrial hemp and drug marijuana are harvested at different times and there are marked visual differences as well: hemp is grown tall whereas marijuana is selected to grow short and tightly clustered." 

It concludes: "The DEA has the authority, and under the circumstances, the obligation, to reconsider the status of industrial hemp under the CSA Schedules."

Landscape Manitoba Harvest hemp heart bars

"Hemp is a crop with deep roots in American history dating back to some of our first farmers including Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Hemp has no place on the schedule of controlled substances and it is time for DEA to de-schedule hemp and allow states to once again regulate hemp farming just like any other crop.

“We need Congress to pass federal legislation to allow commercial hemp farming nationally, for this ripe industry to finally be able to bloom.”

 Eric Steenstra, executive director, Hemp Industries Association

US retail sales of hemp food & beverages approached $90m in 2015

According to the Hemp Industries Association, US retail sales of hemp food, supplements and body care products were estimated to be around $283m in 2015, with around $90m in sales coming from food products such as non-dairy milk, protein bars, and shelled seeds.

However, actual sales are likely far higher as the SPINS data the HIA referenced does not include sales from Whole Foods Market, Costco and some other key retailers.

To read the petition, click HERE 

Evo hemp bar

Hemp, which like chia contains short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, is steadily creeping into a wide range of food and beverage products, although hemp protein is primarily used in energy, protein and muscle recovery drinks, and snack/energy/granola bars.

As for its nutritional profile, hemp protein is high in arginine, which sports enthusiasts like as it is a vasodilator (arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and decrease blood pressure).

While it is low in lysine, it works well in combination with other proteins higher in lysine such as pea protein.

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA)​ is a non-profit trade association representing businesses, farmers, researchers and investors working with industrial hemp.  

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