The official hatchet fell on Oct. 9, 2001, when the DEA announced that "anyone who has purchased a food or beverage product that contains THC has 120 days (until Feb. 6, 2002) to dispose of the product without penalty under federal law."
The DEA claims that THC causes a "psychoactive effect or 'high.'" But while the cannabis varieties used for producing reefer can have as much as 30 percent THC, hemp food products are made from industrial hemp that generally has less than 1 percent THC--not nearly enough to cause a high.
Those waffles may contain trace amounts of THC because "there's no such thing as a zero in nature," says John Roulac, president of Nutiva, a Sebastopol manufacturer of hemp bars, chips and seeds. "For instance, orange juice has minute traces of alcohol, but we don't ban orange juice for children. There's also no such thing as zero arsenic in water."
Roulac says that smoking the marijuana portion of the industrial hemp plant results in a headache, not a high. He also notes that hemp used for food is subject to a cleansing process and that the amount of THC remaining afterward is infinitesimal, no more than say, the amount of opiates in a poppy seed bagel. Unlike the Canadian government, the United States has no official system for measuring levels of THC in foods. However, according to Canadian protocol, the hemp foods such as those manufactured by Nutiva contain no THC.
Just as poppy seeds are exempt from laws governing heroin, Congress exempted hemp products from substance abuse laws when it made marijuana illegal in 1937. However, the DEA announced last October what is known as its "interpretive rule" in regards to hemp, saying that the agency is interpreting and enforcing an existing rule and therefore free from formal rule-making procedures. Through this interpretation, nonfood items such as shampoo, lotions, twine and clothing can remain on the market--at least for now.
So, should consumers thaw out their waffles and dump the hemp-seed salad dressing down the drain, for fear of a DEA-initiated food raid?
DEA spokesperson Rogene Waite was vague about how the agency would enforce the rule and what the penalties might be, deferring all questions to the DEA's website instead.
"As a law enforcement organization, we never talk about how we enforce things. We would never discuss our plans," she said.
David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and chairman of the Hemp Industries Association's food and oil committee, was more forthcoming.
He called the ruling "drug war paranoia," adding that it exhibited "an unbelievable arrogance on the DEA's part that they can override congressional exemption."