Conservative, rural North Dakota has emerged as the unlikely champion fighting for the right to grow industrial hemp. Two farmers there have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to overturn the agency's longtime ban on growing the plant. Court papers and supporters both note that hemp and its much-maligned cousin, marijuana, are two distinct varieties of the cannabis plant.
“They are genetically not the same,” said Adam Eidinger, spokesman for Vote Hemp, an advocacy group.
Consumer demand for hemp has never been greater. Sales for products containing hemp or flax have more than tripled since 2003, to $118 million last year, according to the Nielsen Co. Most hemp and flax is found in nutrition bars, cereals, breads and other grain-based products. Vegetarians in particular like both seeds because they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin E, iron and protein. Now, most of the hemp sold domestically is imported from Canada, where the plant is legal to grow.
The industry has already beaten back the feds once. Three years ago, manufacturers successfully went to court to stop the DEA from banning the sale of finished products.