DEA Wages Hemp War Behind The Scenes In House

06/19/2013 08:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2013
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post
AP

The Drug Enforcement Administration has kicked its lobbying against legalizing industrial hemp into high gear, hoping to block an amendment in the House that would decriminalize the crop for research purposes.

The amendment to the farm bill, proposed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), is far more modest than a Senate effort by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to fully legalize the crop for industrial purposes. That measure never found its way into the Senate version of the bill. The House may vote on Polis' amendment as soon as Tuesday evening.

The Huffington Post has obtained a copy of talking points the DEA is circulating among members of Congress to press them to oppose the amendment -- raising the seemingly incongruous specter of the government using its resources to lobby itself.

The talking points, paradoxically, represent a step forward in the debate. In the Senate, hemp advocates were left only to counter vague "law enforcement concerns" that senators told HuffPost were a factor in their willingness to support reform. With the DEA laying out those specific concerns, hemp backers will attempt to rebut them point by point.

Broadly, the DEA's case focuses on the supposed inability to easily distinguish between hemp and its cousin, marijuana. The similarity, the DEA argues, would allow pot growers to shield their plants behind rows of hemp plants. But the DEA appears not to have gotten the talk about the birds and the bees. A pot grower who allowed hemp plants near a prized marijuana crop would risk cross-pollination, which would result in a dramatically inferior product. In fact, California pot growers have been avid opponents of legalized hemp for just that reason.

Hemp is legal to grow in many industrialized countries, including Canada, and is legal to import into the U.S. States such as Polis' Colorado and McConnell's Kentucky have legalized hemp growing, but await federal action.

Talking points from hemp advocates can be found here. The Senate bill was cosponsored by McConnell and Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (R-Ore.).

Below are the talking points circulated by the DEA on Wednesday:

The amendment (Polis) relates to marijuana (hemp) cultivation for industrial purposes. Marijuana (hemp) cultivation is already permitted under current law, provided the grower has obtained a DEA registration. This bill would eliminate the DEA registration requirement and completely decontrol marijuana grown for industrial purposes by defining "hemp" as marijuana that contains 0.3 percent or less THC, then declaring this "hemp" to be a noncontrolled substance. This would clearly impede law enforcement in several respects. First, it is impossible to distinguish a marijuana plant containing 0.3% or less of THC from a marijuana plant containing higher THC levels without scientific analysis. The bill would thereby make it essentially impossible for law enforcement to enter a grow site to determine the THC content of the "hemp" plants since there would be no way to establish probable cause to obtain a search warrant without first entering the premises to collect samples. As a result, the bill would provide easy cover to hide more potent marijuana plants. Second, even if all the marijuana plants contained 0.3 percent or less THC, they would still provide an enormous quantity of psychoactive material because it is very easy and inexpensive to convert low-grade marijuana into high-grade hashish oil. YouTube videos already provide easy-to-follow instructions on how to make hashish oil.

Listed below are talking points on the issue.

Hemp Talking Points

What is "hemp"?
"Hemp" is not a term found in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Historically, "hemp" was simply an alternative term used to refer to the cannabis plant (i.e., an alternative to the Spanish-derived term "marihuana"). However, starting in approximately the late 1990s, the term "hemp" increasingly was used to refer specifically to cannabis grown for industrial purposes. (The term "industrial hemp" is also used in this context.) During this time period, some persons have erroneously asserted that "hemp" was a distinct species from marijuana. Botanically speaking, any plant of the genus "cannabis" constitutes marijuana under the CSA -– regardless of whether the plant is referred to as "hemp," "marijuana," or any other name.

Does "hemp" have different psychoactive properties than marijuana?
The psychoactive properties of a given cannabis plant will depend on the chemical makeup of the plant -– not the name (e.g., "marijuana" or "hemp") that the grower assigns to the plant. The cannabis plant contains roughly 500 different chemicals. The primary psychoactive chemical found in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). Another chemical found in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD). Among the primary factors that determine the psychoactive properties of a cannabis plant are (1) the amount of THC in the plant and (2) the ratio of THC to CBD in the plant. To oversimplify what is a complex scientific consideration, it is generally the case that the greater the percentage of THC in the plant, the greater the psychoactive effect. However, there is no established minimum threshold amount of THC that a cannabis plant must contain to produce a psychoactive effect. Moreover, the amount of THC that will cause a psychoactive effect will vary among individual users.

Cannabis grown for industrial purposes does, generally, have a lower THC content than cannabis grown for smoking. However, from a scientific perspective, there is no maximum or minimum amount of THC that will necessarily be contained in a cannabis plant grown for industrial purposes. The genetic makeup of the plant and the environmental conditions in which it is grown will dictate THC content.

For what purposes is "industrial hemp" grown?
In broadest terms, there are two general categories of "industrial" products that are made from the cannabis plant: fiber-derived products and seed-derived products. From the fiber of the plant, one can produce textiles and paper products. The seeds of the plant can be pressed into oil, which is used as additive in food and beverage products. (It should be noted that the FDA has expressly declined to recognize "hemp seed oil" as generally recognized as safe.) The oil from the seeds is also used as an ingredient in personal care products such as soaps, lotions, and shampoos. Cannabis seeds can also be used in bird feed.

Is it legal to grow "hemp" in the United States?
The CSA permits the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes, provided the grower has obtained a DEA registration to do so. This requirement applies with respect to all cannabis plants, regardless of the THC content. Every federal court that has examined this issue has so ruled. Monson v. DEA, 589 F.3d 952 (8th Cir. 2009); United States v. White Plume, 447 F.3d 1067 (8th Cir. 2006); New Hampshire Hemp Council v. Marshall, 203 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2000). To obtain such a registration, an applicant must demonstrate, among other things, that it will install security measures consistent with the requirements set forth in the DEA regulations.

Does a "hemp" plant with low THC content present any real concerns?
It is true that, if given a choice, marijuana smokers will seek cannabis with a relatively high THC concentration over the type of cannabis typically grown for industrial purposes. However, as indicated, there is no guarantee that a cannabis plant grown for industrial purposes will not cause a psychoactive effect when smoked. Indeed, there have been reported thefts from "industrial hemp" grow facilities. More significantly, even those cannabis plants that have a relatively low THC concentration provide a substantial source of psychoactive material that would be readily exploited by drug seekers if such plants could be easily acquired. Using a relatively simple and inexpensive process of chemical extraction, low grade cannabis (including so-called "industrial hemp") can be readily converted into a highly potent concentrate known as "hash oil." Anyone can learn how to make hash oil by watching instructional videos on YouTube.

Indeed, the illicit production of hash oil appears to be a growing and dangerous trend in the United States, and poses a significant harm to our communities and the environment. Just recently, on February 7, 2013, the U.S. Fire Administration (a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency) issued a bulletin entitled "Hash Oil Explosions Increasing Across U.S." In this bulletin, which is available atwww.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/emr-isac/infograms/ig2013/6-13.shtm#1, the U.S. Fire Administration stated, among other things, that explosions in residences and hotels are being traced back to the production of hash oil using butane and that the number of these incidents appears to be increasing.

Can one tell "industrial hemp" and marijuana apart?
It can be extremely difficult to distinguish cannabis grown for industrial purposes from cannabis grown for smoking. This is especially true if law enforcement is attempting to make this determination without entering the premises on which the plants are being grown.
It should be noted here that "hemp" grown to produce seeds will appear different from "hemp" grown to produce fiber. Plants grown to produce fiber may (depending on the stage of growth) appear taller and stalkier. In contrast, plants grown to produce seeds may appear bushy and thus more difficult to distinguish from plants for smoking.

As for the THC content of a cannabis plant, this is impossible to determine without performing a chemical analysis of the particular plant. Further, the THC content can vary significantly from plant-to-plant within a given grow site, meaning that testing one plant cannot be relied upon to prove the THC content of neighboring plants.


Related on HuffPost:

  • 1 Former President Bill Clinton
    AP
  • Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton has supported decriminalizing marijuana for more than a decade and more recently has spoken out against the war on drugs.

    “I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be," he said back in 2000 in an interview with Rolling Stone. "We really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment.”

    He's since spoken about the issue of marijuana and drug prohibition a number of times. Last year, he appeared in the documentary, "Breaking the Taboo," where he argued that the war on drugs has been a failure.
  • 2 Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
    AP
  • Paul exhibited his libertarian tendencies earlier this year when he explained that he'd favor reforming marijuana laws to either decriminalize or reduce penalties for possession.

    “I don't want to promote that but I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake," Paul said. "There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this. I don't want to put them in jail and ruin their lives."

  • 3 Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)
  • As a congressman, Paul took his opposition to marijuana and drug prohibition a step farther than his son has so far. He supported a number of bills that would have removed the plant from its current status as a Schedule I substance under federal law, where it is considered alongside heroin and PCP. Because his history on the topic is so expansive, just take a look at the video to the left for a selection of his comments.
  • 4 Evangelist Pat Robertson
    AP
  • While the 83-year-old Robertson may say a lot of things that make him sound like a kooky old man, he's also made a few remarks to endear himself to marijuana advocates.

    "I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," Robertson said in an interview with The New York Times in 2012. "I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn't succeeded."

    Robertson has made similar remarks on his "700 Club" show before, but the Times, like many others, perhaps felt they must have misheard him.
  • 5 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
    Getty Images
  • In a state of the city address earlier this year, Bloomberg made it clear that he supported a promise by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to push marijuana decriminalization. "I support Governor Cuomo's proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor, and we'll work to help him pass it." A similar effort specific to NYC has made some progress, but faces an unclear path forward with New York lawmakers.
  • 6 Actor Bryan Cranston
    Getty Images
  • Some may think of Cranston as more of a meth guy thanks to Walter White, his character on AMC's hit show "Breaking Bad," but in real life he's spoken out against current pot laws, suggesting that recreational marijuana use isn't a big deal -- and shouldn't be treated like it.

    “[T]o me, marijuana is no different than wine," he said in an interview with High Times. "It's a drug of choice. It's meant to alter your current state -- and that's not a bad thing. It's ridiculous that marijuana is still illegal. We're still fighting for it ... It comes down to individual decision-making. There are millions of people who smoke pot on a social basis and don't become criminals. So stop with that argument -- it doesn't work.”

    [H/T Marijuana Majority]
  • 7 Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R)
    AP
  • Unlike many politicians, Johnson, a Libertarian presidential candidate in 2012, has unabashedly admitted using marijuana. But beyond his personal history with pot, he's been an outspoken advocate for legalizing and taxing it.

    From his campaign platform:

    "By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco - regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use - America will be better off. The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with the billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society."
  • 8 Author Stephen King
    Getty Images
  • King hasn't been shy about advocating for a legal marijuana industry that could give easy access to recreational users and revenue to the states.

    “Marijuana should not only be legal, I think it should be a cottage industry," he said in an interview with High Times. "My wife says, and I agree with her, that what would be really great for Maine would be to legalize dope completely and set up dope stores the way that there are state-run liquor stores.”

    [H/T Marijuana Majority]
  • 9 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)
    Getty Images
  • Rohrabacher was a co-sponsor of the 2013 "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act," which seeks to protect marijuana users or businesses acting legally according to state marijuana laws from being prosecuted under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

    While marijuana has been made legal for various uses in a number of states, the Obama administration continues to enforce federal laws across the nation. This has led to numerous raids of marijuana-based businesses, as well as prosecutions of growers and other people involved in pot.

  • 10 Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)
    AP
  • Young was also a co-sponsor of the 2013 "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act."
  • 11 Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.)
    Getty Images
  • Amash was also a co-sponsor of the "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act."
  • 12 Glenn Beck
    AP
  • Back in 2009, when Beck had a Fox News show, he suggested that marijuana legalization could be a worthwhile solution to raging drug violence on the nation's border with Mexico.

    "I think it's about time we legalize marijuana," he said. "We have to make a choice in this country. We either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars or we legalize it, but this little game we're playing in the middle is not helping us, it is not helping Mexico and it is causing massive violence on our southern border."
  • 13 Billionaire Richard Branson
    AP
  • From an op-ed by Branson arguing for an end to the war on drugs:

    "Decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Portugal's 10 year experiment shows clearly that enough is enough. It is time to end the war on drugs worldwide. We must stop criminalising drug users. Health and treatment should be offered to drug users - not prison. Bad drugs policies affect literally hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities across the world. We need to provide medical help to those that have problematic use - not criminal retribution."
  • 14 GOP Mega-Donor David Koch
    AP
  • Koch may have funneled countless dollars to conservative candidates who oppose reforming marijuana laws, but back in 1980, when he was the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, he suggested that it was "ridiculous" to consider people who smoked pot "criminals."
  • 15 Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
    Getty Images
  • In 2010, Perry told Jon Stewart that he believed in a federalist approach to marijuana laws -- that is, to allow states to determine their own approach and to tell the federal government to butt out. He's since suggested he'd be willing to support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
  • 16 Comedy Central's Jon Stewart
    Getty Images
  • Stewart has made a habit of taking down politicians who exhibit an uncompromising stance on marijuana prohibition. In 2012, Stewart took New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to task for vetoing a marijuana decriminalization bill.

    “Alright, as much as I disagree, I don’t think marijuana should be illegal, but it is illegal on the federal level," Stewart began. "Christie is a former prosecutor, a man of conviction, of principle, doesn’t believe that the state should supersede federal law."

    The praise in the second sentence is a good sign that Stewart is about to shred Christie. Watch the rest of his takedown above.
  • 17 Actor Jack Nicholson
    AP
  • In an interview with the UK's Daily Mail in 2011, Nicholson said that he personally still used marijuana, before making the case for ending the prohibition on pot as well as other drugs.

    "I don't tend to say this publicly, but we can see it's a curative thing. The narcotics industry is also enormous. It funds terrorism and - this is a huge problem in America - fuels the foreign gangs," he said. "More than 85 percent of men incarcerated in America are on drug-related offences. It costs $40,000 a year for every prisoner. If they were really serious about the economy there would be a sensible discussion about legalization."
  • 18 Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R)
    AP
  • In a 2013 American Conservative op-ed chock full of moderate Republican views, Huntsman snuck in a call to "applaud states that lead on reforming drug policy."

    While Obama and his administration have responded to state marijuana reforms by saying they must enforce federal laws against marijuana, the president has the power to reschedule the drug, which would allow federal authorities to shift resources away from a prohibitive approach.
  • 19 Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R)
    AP
  • Palin spoke out on marijuana in 2010, saying she didn't support legalizing it but also calling it a "minimal problem" for the nation.

    "However, I think we need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts," Palin said. "If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society." While Obama has spoken repeatedly about not being interested in prosecuting small-time marijuana users, he hasn't done anything to prevent them from being busted by law enforcement in states where the drug is still illegal.
  • 20 Comedian Jimmy Kimmel
    Getty Images
  • Kimmel notably took a shot at Obama while serving as host of the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, questioning a continued marijuana crackdown under the president's administration. He then went on to say that the issue of its continued illegality was a serious political concern for many Americans.

    (Check out the video above.)
  • 21 Former President Jimmy Carter
    Getty Images
  • Carter hasn't minced words in expressing his opposition to harsh marijuana and drug prohibition policies.

    In 2012, the former president said he was fine with state legalization efforts, though he himself doesn't necessary support legalizing the drug.

    “As president 35 years ago I called for decriminalizing -- but not legalizing -- the possession of marijuana,” Carter said. “Since then, U.S. drug policies have been very horrible to our own country because of an explosion in prison populations.”
  • 22 Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
    AP
  • A staunch conservative who failed in a run for the U.S. Senate last year, Cuccinelli suggested in 2013 that he was "evolving" on marijuana legalization, and that he supported the rights of states to determine their own pot laws.

    "I don't have a problem with states experimenting with this sort of thing I think that's the role of states," Cuccinelli said, according to Ryan Nobles of WWBT.
  • 23 Columnist Dan Savage
    AP
  • Savage slammed Obama for perpetuating the war on drugs while on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" in 2009.

    “The proof will be in the policy. The war on drugs has gotten a really bad rap, when you ask people if they support the war on drugs they say no ... [Obama's] budget once again has the same old drug warrior policy ... I reject the assumption that everybody who is using drugs needs treatment or is an addict and needs to get arrested ... Not all drug use is abuse.”

    He's kept up the fight for drug policy reform since.

    [H/T Marijuana Majority]
  • 24 MSNBC's Al Sharpton
    Getty Images
  • Sharpton has repeatedly spoken out in favor of reforming drug laws. In 2011, he suggested that the nation had wasted trillions of dollars in an ill-fated effort that had weighed particularly heavily on the African American community.

    “We've been fighting the war on drugs since the '60s. And guess what? Trillions of dollars later, we are losing," Sharpton said during a segment on MSNBC. "When you look at the disparities in sentencing drug offenders, hasn't this kind of injustice undermined the legitimacy of our criminal justice system?”

    [H/T Marijuana Majority]
  • 25 Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)
    AP
  • Tancredo came out aggressively in favor of reforming marijuana laws in 2010, telling the Colorado Independent that the correct path forward was "Legalize it. Regulate it. Tax it."

    Tancredo continued, “The arguments against marijuana today are the same as the arguments against liquor years ago.”

    Years later, the former congressman agreed to smoke pot on camera with a documentary filmmaker, a deal that he later backed out of.

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