NC hemp commission considers joining lawsuit against DEA

The state commission charged with fostering an industrial hemp industry in North Carolina is considering joining a lawsuit against a government agency that it agrees is making things difficult: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

The N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission, which was created by the General Assembly in 2015, gave its verbal support to the lawsuit last week and plans to announce Thursday whether it will become a party to it.

The lawsuit would be filed by Founder’s Hemp of Asheboro – the first company to register in North Carolina as an industrial hemp producer. The company says it intends to sue the DEA over its ruling that products made with CBD or cannabidiol hemp, which are in the same cannabis family as marijuana, are illegal and cannot be transported across state lines.

“We cannot let this stand as an industry,” Bob Crumley, president of Founder’s Hemp, said during a meeting of the Industrial Hemp Commission last week. “If we let what the DEA is currently doing stand, we need to fold our tents and give everybody their money back.”

The federal government outlawed the growing of hemp in 1937. But with the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress allowed universities and state departments of agriculture to grow industrial hemp for research, and more than 30 states, including North Carolina, have passed laws allowing hemp research and pilot programs.

But the DEA has maintained that the transportation of hemp seeds across state lines is illegal, and that it is illegal for farmers to sell their finished hemp products in other states within the U.S.

Crumley said the DEA’s position is based on the antiquated idea that “all cannabis is bad.” He noted that hemp contains negligible amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical that provides the “high” associated with marijuana use; industrial hemp has less than 0.3 percent of THC, compared to 3 to 15 percent or higher in marijuana.

Crumley said that the DEA’s position is an example of bureaucracy that clearly thwarts the will of Congress and disadvantages American farmers.

“To say that a Canadian farmer has more rights in this market than a farmer from North Carolina or Kentucky does – it’s ridiculous,” Crumley said. “It’s abhorrent.”

The DEA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Talk of the lawsuit comes as farmers are lining up to grow and sell hemp under North Carolina’s test program. Last week, the Industrial Hemp Commission approved applications from 16 growers who said they would import hemp seeds from outside of the U.S., which the DEA has ruled is legal. The commission delayed the approval of the six applicants that listed their seed source as within the U.S. and said it will decide what to do with those applications at its meeting Thursday.

Hemp is a versatile plant used in the manufacture of fabrics, fuels, plastics and construction materials, among others products. CBD hemp oil is a nutritional supplement with anti-inflammatory properties that been marketed as having the potential to soothe chronic pain.

Vernon Cox, director of the plant industry division at the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said grower interest in hemp has been high. The agriculture department, which is charged with serving as staff for the Industrial Hemp Commission, has reviewed 40 to 50 applications from farmers hoping to grow it.

Cox said the “safest option” for growers at this point is to import seed from Europe or Canada.

Meanwhile, Tom Melton, the chairman of the commission, said it would need to consult its lawyers to determine whether it could join the Founder’s Hemp suit as a complainant, as Crumley requested.

“We’re just not quite sure where we fall in being able to support them in litigation, so we had a motion and voted to support them verbally – to let everyone know that we support where they stand,” said Melton, deputy director of N.C. Cooperative Extension at N.C. State University. “But whether or not we can actually be part of litigation, we have to find out from our state attorneys really how that falls out.”

Rachel Chason: 919-828-4629