The Permit to Cultivate Fiber Hemp for Paper

Updated July 10, 2001

     At the Evanescent Press in Mendocino county, California, we have been making paper by hand since 1988. Starting in 1990, we began to experiment with the use of hemp which we first received as anonymous local donations from growers in the hills who were cultivating marijuana.

     From the very beginning, we were impressed with the quality and strength of the hemp fiber, and we quickly began to locate additional sources. We received raw bast fiber hemp from China, and partially prepared bast fiber hemp from a mill in Spain. (Until recently, this mill in Spain supplied the pulp for most of the commercial hemp paper made outside of China, although now several other mills are getting into the act.)

     But this hemp material has always been very expensive, and so we have tried to get permission to cultivate fiber hemp ourselves, on our own property, for the exclusive use of making into paper in our own mill. The local donations have always yielded a very high quality fiber, but, unfortunately, the plants have been cultivated for their flowering tops rather than for the fiber, and so, instead of receiving long thick stalks with lots of fiber and very few branches, we receive odds and ends of small sticks and stems. This material is almost impossible to decorticate efficiently (separate the high quality outer fiber from the core).

     However, from my researches into hemp (e.g., the famous Bulletin 404 of the USDA, Hemp Hurds for Paper Making), I understood that the hurds, or core material, although not as good as the bast fiber, was still quite usable, at least for commercial qualities of paper. Our own interest has always been to make paper of the highest quality, and so ordinarily we are not interested in lower quality material, but, since we are interested in the commercial potential of hemp for paper, we use the whole stalks, although we use decorticated bast fiber also.

     So, in order to have access to quantities of stalks with nice long fat layers of bast fiber, it is necessary to cultivate the hemp specifically as a fiber crop, and this we have applied for a permit to do.

     Fiber hemp has almost no THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). Most varieties of fiber hemp contain about one half of one percent THC. (For reference, wild strains of “drug” varieties of cannabis usually contain from 3 to 7% THC, which in cultivation is usually raised to from 7 to 10%. Today’s most knowledgeable growers are often able to attain THC levels of 15% and even higher.) But the THC content is not the whole story! Fiber hemp also contains relatively large amounts of CBD, another chemical which interferes with the cannabis high, producing headaches, nausea, and a heavy, stupid feeling. What this means is that it is just not possible to obtain a positive drug experience from fiber hemp. Period. When agents of the DEA asked me how I was going to ensure that there would be no “diversion” of the material to illegal uses, I replied that I would put up a sign on the gate: “Fiber Hemp. Very Low THC.” I explained that none of my neighbors would be likely to touch any of those plants with twenty-foot tongs, for fear of taking away a seed by mistake!

     Although ordinary fiber hemp, the sort which was cultivated widely in Kentucky and other states for many years until it was outlawed in the 30’s, would be most suitable for my needs, I was interested to obtain seed from the Bast Fiber Research Institute in the Ukraine, where seed has been developed with the lowest levels of THC, as low as .01%.

     My travels to the Ukraine led to my introduction to work on alternative pulping technologies which excited me very much. I saw test sheets of paper made from a great variety of fibers, from whole hemp stalks to hemp hurds with no bast fiber at all, to sunflower stalks and other agricultural waste material. Even better, the technology employed a closed system so there was no toxic effluent or any other source of environmental pollution. But all of this is another story. If you are interested, follow the links to the Alternative Fiber Pulp Mill, and the New World Pulper.

     I returned from the Ukraine with a supply of seed, and arranged for it to be safely held for us in Amsterdam, pending the issuance of our permit. Well, my hair is turning gray, and that seed has gotten old, and we are still waiting for that permit. (When I updated this article earlier, in May of 1997, that old seed had been distributed long ago, but it is no longer a problem. When we get our permit, we will have no trouble getting seed.)

     At the direction of the DEA, we obtained a safe for storing viable seed. We installed an eight foot high chain link fence around our site, complete with eighteen inches of barbed wire angled out at 45 degrees. We installed a locked gate. We installed floodlights, alarms, and a telephone connection to emergency services. Finally, we fixed up a little cabin for the use of a 24 hour guard.

     You don’t want to hear about all the run-arounds with Research Protocols and site inspections. Suffice it to say that at long last, the DEA was satisfied of our compliance with all of their regulations, and that we were the first and only ones to do so, and so all we needed to do now was to obtain the cooperation of the State of California to be able to receive our permit at long last.

     All efforts to obtain state approval for this project were totally frustrated until California voters decided that patients who use marijuana for medical use should no longer be prosecuted as criminals (Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996). Since legal authority in the United States is conditional upon the consent of the governed, federal laws proscribing marijuana have no legal authority in the State of California, at least insofar as they interfere with the rights guaranteed directly by the people in Proposition 215. In any case, we expect no opposition to our suggestion that we allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate cannabis within our federally approved enclosure as long as they leave us their stalks, since there must be some legal way to comply with the terms of Proposition 215, and our proposal would provide a more closely regulated cultivation than any other proposed solution.

     Actually, there was some opposition, I record, updating this history of events. As a matter of fact, the DEA tacitly conceded my right to grow medical marihuana, but based their objection to my application upon my checking off the box on the form that said “for non-human consumption.” Since it was still against California law to cultivate hemp “for non-human consumption” my application must be denied. I clearly submitted a written amendment to my application (previous paragraph), but this amendment was not accepted even though regulations allow amendments “for good cause.” I thought that modifying the application to conform with the laws of the State of California was a good cause. So this application was denied, and I had to submit yet another application (my fourth since 1993), with yet another $875 non-refundable deposit, in which I was careful not to check off that offending box.

     If the account ends here, I am still waiting for their response.

     (Update). The story continues: On November 4, 1999, I received an “Order to Show Cause” why the application should not be denied. In accordance with the Order, I sent in my request for a Hearing, carefully saving my receipts for certified mail, and also carefully saving the signature card of the person receiving my request. Nearly a year later, I finally received another communication from the DEA. (Perhaps they figured that a long enough time had passed that I would not have retained any documented evidence of my formal request for a Hearing). I received a Notice of Final Adverse Ruling, based upon my failure to respond to their Order to Show Cause. This “Final Adverse Ruling” was subsequently published in the Federal Register. I promptly sent along photocopies of my request for the Hearing, along with photocopies of my postal receipts and the signature card of the receiving DEA agent. Well, I could hear them gnashing their teeth in frustration as they were forced to publish a “Notice of Withdrawal of Denial of Application” in the Federal Register.

     Next, I receive a Motion for Summary Disposition, which is a motion to decide the matter out of hand, without allowing me my right to a fair Hearing in the matter. I responded with a clear summary of the case from my point of view, but after some time I received a very surprising decision from an Administrative Law Judge accepting the Government’s Motion. The logic of the decision was very feeble, but what is to be expected when you ask a judge in the service of the DEA to decide the case? (Shall we hire a fox to guard the chicken house?) We were proposing to rent space in our garden to the Paper Mill Hemp Farm, which was constituted as a cooperative association of medical marijuana patients. However, the judge for the DEA stated that the law requires each person who manufactures a controlled substance separately to apply for an annual registration. In the first place (as I should have explained in my Hearing, had the Government allowed me such exercise of my legal rights), “person” is commonly used for corporations and other entities, so that the Government’s interpretation was specious on the very surface. But, in practical terms, it is pretty ludicrous for the Government to blandly assert that each member of the cooperative association should independently apply for individual registration! The Paper Mill Hemp Farm is so constituted as to provide a structure under which the members may act collectively. Since the Church of the Living Tree is the sponsor of the project and the owner of the property, it makes abundant sense that they should be treated as the responsible party in this case. But after ten years and many thousands of dollars for fencing, security measures, and four separate application fees (the annual fee is $875, non-refundable), we are still very far from any Registration under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It would almost appear that our Government is deliberately obstructing our efforts to comply with the law.

      We have sent a letter of complaint to the Public Integrity Section of the DEA, but we have no illusions that there will be any change. When the Government is determined to pursue its own agenda, in defiance of the expressed will of the people (e.g., California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, “Proposition 215”), it is clearly useless to bang your head against such a brick wall. However, the United States Government cannot build a “Great Wall of China” around itself, nor can it stick its head in the sand forever. My company, Earth Pulp & Paper, is in the process of building non-wood fiber pulp mills for installation in Europe, Asia, Canada, and throughout the “Free World.” Perhaps when farmers and processors in the rest of the world are making lots of money, and no one wants paper anymore made from America’s wood-pulp mills, there may be a change in policy. But if we are too busy building non-wood pulp mills everywhere else in the world, American farmers and business people will know where to direct their complaints. We have tried to introduce our technology here in California, but we are taking it out of the country. Agents of the DEA are free to congratulate themselves on their victory. We will make no further efforts to cultivate hemp in this country.


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