DEA's Assault on Birdseed
By Jack Anderson & Douglas Cohn
Washington -- Zealotry is not an attribute Americans value in their
government, whether it comes in the form of an overbearing policeman, an
all-too-happy tax collector, or -- an arbitrary drug enforcement agent.
Zealotry is worse, still, when it infects not just the agent, but the
agency -- in this case, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) -- as occurred
on August 9:
A tractor-trailer full of seed destined for a birdseed factory was
stopped and seized in Detroit, Michigan, by U.S. Customs officials on
orders from the DEA. The cargo was listed as sterilized hemp seed from
Kenex, a farming company based in Ontario, Canada, where it is licensed
to breed, grow, process and manufacture hemp and hemp products.
You may wonder if this "dangerous" birdseed was laced with acid or
camouflaging heroin. It was not.
The problem arose when the DEA literally chose to take the law into its
own hands by redefining the law as it relates to marijuana, despite the
fact that Congress, when drafting the Controlled Substance Act of 1937,
excluded from its definition of marijuana, "the sterilized seed of such
plant which is incapable of germination."
Such seeds, it was acknowledged, may -- like the oil and the nut --
contain naturally occurring traces of Tetra hydro cannabinol (THC), the
active ingredient in marijuana. By Kenex's own paperwork, the hemp seed
contained .00148 percent THC -- the equivalent, according to Kenex
president, Jean Laprise, of an olive pit in a railroad car.
By comparison, a marijuana leaf contains five to 30 percent THC. The DEA
interpretation of the law is that only completely sterilized cannabis
seeds, incapable of germination, are exempted from the Controlled
Substance Act. The DEA states it has recently become aware that some of
these seeds are being imported for human consumption, and if the seeds
are remotely contaminated by THC, it is illegal to eat them under federal
law -- this though they acknowledge that no one could get high off such
However, we have in our possession two affidavits from DEA employees from
a 1991 lawsuit against a hemp manufacturer, that declare, "A five percent
viability rate is considered necessary by the DEA to prove that the
sample of seeds is indeed viable. Viability is the critical aspect of the
analysis because the law specifically states that sterilized seeds
incapable of germination are not included in the term 'marijuana' and are
therefore not controlled."
A Customs official tells us the Kenex load was registered as sterilized
grain. The paperwork with the truck indicated the cargo was sterilized
hemp seed. Even so, Customs contacted DEA, and DEA instructed Customs to
seize the load. Customs complied and 17 other hemp loads shipped from
Kenex to the U.S. were recalled. Kenex had to contact all of the American
companies that had received hemp shipments and request theytrack down the
product and send it back to the border in 30 days or face a fine. "The
fines are inevitable; the hemp we have shipped has been processed and
sold," Laprise told us.
Unapologetically, Dean Boyd, spokesperson for Customs told us. "The law
is the law. We don't want to get in a political back and forth on the
merits of hemp seed. We have to uphold the law." But he was quoting the
law according to the DEA, not the act of Congress.
Kenex continues to insist that hemp is legal and they have been shipping
it across the border for over a year without incident. "Do you think if
they were trying to smuggle a product, they would have admitted to having
drugs in the load?" asks John Roulac, a California businessman who was to
receive part of the hemp seed shipment for chewy granola bars that his
Interestingly, of the 32 countries that grow and import hemp, none of
them are mentioned in the DEA's congressional report on drug-producing.
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