Federal agents seized 350 pounds of Canadian hemp seeds bound for a Colorado farm, despite that hemp cultivation in states that permit it is legal under the recently passed federal farm bill.
Hemp farming is permitted in both Colorado, which also legalized adult use of marijuana in 2012, and in North Dakota, where the shipment was seized.
But Colorado farmer Tom McClain told The Associated Press that border agents took the seeds as he was driving them back from Manitoba, Canada, where the seeds are also legal.
“They treated me very professionally,” he told AP. “They were just a little confused as to what to do. According to them, I couldn’t bring them in.”
Although hemp is the same plant species as marijuana, only the latter contains significant amounts of THC, the substance that produces a high. Hemp fiber is used in numerous applications from clothing to concrete reinforcement.
Although it can’t get you high, hemp remains lumped in with marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government. Congress worked to free the harmless plant from the drug-war bureaucracy with the latest farm bill, which allows states with hemp farming laws to grow the crop. So far, 12 states have approved hemp farms or pilot programs.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, however, makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana. After the agency seized a 250-pound shipment of Italian hemp seeds bound for a pilot program in Kentucky in May, its spokesman said that regardless of the farm bill, it’s still illegal to import without a special DEA permit.
“It’s ridiculous, if hemp is not being grown in the United States, how are we going to grow it without seeds?” Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie told U.S. News at the time. “You can buy a granola bar — in whichever city you’re in — with hemp seeds on it. Everything made of hemp is legal to bring into this country.”
Kentucky sued the DEA, the Justice Department, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in hopes of having the seeds released. The DEA eventually issued a permit and the seeds were delivered.
The fate of McClain’s seeds is still under review.
“The shipment is currently undergoing scientific evaluation, as hemp seeds can look much like marijuana seeds,” a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman told the AP.
More than 40 hemp farm applications have been approved in Colorado, but AP reports that the state has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy related to where the farmers get their seeds.
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