Eat a pretzel, go to jail

Sacramento graphic designer, teacher, activist

While most of this country’s law enforcement agencies are busy seeking out and investigating suspected foreign terrorists, the Drug Enforcement Agency has continued on its quest to find new ways to turn law abiding Americans into criminals. On October 9, 2001, while the nation’s news outlets were distracted by the “War on Terrorism,” the DEA expanded it’s “War on Drugs” to include food and beverages. Specifically, those made from or containing hemp seeds.

The growing $5-million hemp food industry employs thousands and produces a wide array of organic, healthy foods such as pretzels, chips, granola bars, cereal, cheese and salad dressings. Numerous studies have shown that hemp seeds are a perfect nutritional source. The flavorful, high-protein seeds supply all essential amino acids and a high concentration of the fatty acids that are recommended for a balanced diet.

But the DEA has decided, without approval from Congress, or public notice, that because the hemp seed is related to marijuana, it too should be prohibited for human consumption. Claiming that hemp seeds contain THC (the active drug in pot), the DEA has classified these healthy, organic foods as dangerous, illegal contraband.

The fact is, if these seeds, which must be sterilized before entering the U.S., have any THC at all, it is such an infinitesimal amount that they have no psychoactive effect. They are as likely to be abused as poppy seeds, which have trace amounts of opium. In fact, poppy seeds contain enough opiates to trigger a positive drug test. Hemp seeds do not. The DEA, however, has no plans to ban poppy seeds.

So, why is the DEA banning food with no practical psychoactive use? They claim that the new rules are being enacted “to protect public health and safety.” Without a single case of someone actually getting high from hemp food, they feel the need to protect us? Yeah, right.

Here’s the real reason: Fear. Fear of the industrial hemp lobby, which has been building nationwide support among farmers and progressive businessmen over the last decade. This grassroots effort wants to legalize the farming of industrial hemp plants to make food, fabric and fuel. In June 2000, former drug czar General Barry McCaffrey expressed concern that the growing use of hemp products is “confounding our federal drug control programs.” In other words, the growing presence of non-drug products labeled “hemp,” often accompanied by a hemp (pot) leaf logo, is helping to legitimize marijuana.

I don’t believe that hemp’s connection to pot is an acceptable reason to ban healthy foods. If you agree, contact your elected representatives and fax the DEA at (202) 307-8570.

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