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SAN FRANCISCO - The Justice Department's decision not to challenge a February ruling that overturned the Bush administration's ban on hemp-derived foods has opened a way for such products to gain popularity in the United States, said industry observers.
"I see a major increase in sales and involvement from major companies," coming from the victory in hemp's favor, said one industry player, Mike Fata, North American sales manager for Winnipeg-based Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, in an interview with Progressive Grocer. "This has already been the case since the Feb. 6 decision by the 9th circuit court, but I feel it will now be more so, as it is truly settled."
Fata added, however, that it will probably "be a while before hemp will be legal to grow in the U.S.A.," so the Justice Department's decision "will be a bigger boom for Canadian companies."
Speaking about the stigma hemp products have often encountered in the United States because of the mistaken impression that they contain drugs, Fata continued: "I think that you will find hemp foods entering into [U.S.] mass market stores in the near future. Our products are available in all major retailers in Canada -- Safeway, A&P, Loblaws, Sobeys -- in the natural food section. This will happen because of consumers' demand for convenience. The success of the legal battle will help lift the stigma, as it will become popular for the media to write about hemp foods. It was due a lack of information/education that hemp had a stigma."
The deadline was Monday night for the government to challenge the federal appeals court's Feb. 6 decision that the United States can't prohibit the domestic sale of hemp food products. The court said that although the Drug Enforcement Administration has regulatory authority over marijuana and synthetically derived tetrahydrocannobinol (THC), a mind-altering chemical found in marijuana, the agency didn't have the authority to ban foods made from marijuana relative hemp, which contains trace amounts of THC.
In October 2001 the Drug Enforcement Agency said that food products containing even trace amounts of THC would be prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. The agency then ordered a stop to production and distribution of all THC-containing food items for humans.
The appeals court put the law on hold just before items were removed from shelves, permitting stores to keep selling food products made with hemp from Canada and other countries, while the legal wrangle went on.
DEA attorneys contended that it was impossible to know whether some hemp-derived foods could cause those who eat them to get high. The court said in its February decision, however, that it wasn't possible to get high from products containing only trace amounts of THC.
Hemp is an industrial plant used to manufacture products including paper, clothing, and rope, and its oil is often an ingredient in lotion, soap, and cosmetics. Over 200 food companies use the plant to make products such as energy bars, waffles, milk-free cheese, and vegetable burgers. According to Fata, "Hemp seed is the richest source of omega-3 and omega-6 -- the essential fatty acids, or EFAs -- and vegetarian protein. Hemp foods have thousands of years of history on the planet, but have been commercially available in North America [only] since 1998."
-- Bridget Goldschmidt