CONSUMERS AND devotees of all things hempen, take heart. Last week, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) extended the grace period on its nationwide ban on hemp foods another 40 days.
The DEA wasn't acting entirely out of kindness and generosity in delaying the ban, which applies to all foods containing any amount—no matter how small—of THC (the chemical in pot that gets you high). The decision came down from DEA senior attorney Daniel Dormont after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questioned whether the agency was planning to enforce the ban before the court could rule on an appeal by a group of hemp growers and producers. "As we discussed, this [extension] should allow the Court to rule on the motion prior to the expiration of the grace period," Dormont wrote. Paradoxically, although retailers can sell their existing stock, hemp foods can't be consumed, manufactured, or distributed legally during the extended grace period.
Members of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), whose court challenge prompted the extension, heralded the decision as evidence that the drug agency was close to conceding the battle. "It means they lack confidence in their case," says HIA spokesperson David Bronner, founder of Bronner's Magic Soaps. And well they might—the government does not hold either opiates, found in poppy seeds, or arsenic, found in drinking water, to as strict a standard as the DEA is proposing for hemp foods.
Although "it's impossible," according to Vote Hemp spokesperson Adam Eidenger, "to remove all the THC from these products," the amount that remains in hemp foods is infinitesimal—so small that you'd have to down gallons of hemp oil daily to fail a drug test, much less get high.
But the zero-THC standard does accomplish one DEA goal, Eidenger says: It intimidates retailers into taking hemp products off their shelves. Because hemp foods producers can't assure grocery stores that their products contain no THC, some—such as Whole Foods, the nation's largest health-foods chain—have quietly begun pulling the products. Eidenger reports that Whole Foods higher-ups decided to pull the foods after meeting with DEA officials a day before the original ban was supposed to take effect; Whole Foods did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Erica C. Barnett