Sun, 03 Oct 1999
New York Times (NY)
Author: Christopher S. Wren


What do 40,000 pounds of birdseed have in common with America's war on
drugs? Nothing, says Jean Laprise, an Ontario farmer who shipped the
birdseed to his American customers only to have it seized when it
crossed the U.S.-Canadian border.

Everything, say the U.S. government and its critics, but for
altogether different reasons.

The birdseed, nearly 20 tons of it, has been locked in a Detroit
warehouse since Aug. 9, when it was impounded by the United States
Customs Service. The reason: the seed consists of sterilized seeds
processed from industrial hemp.

Laprise has found himself mired in one of the more bizarre episodes of
Washington's campaign to curb illicit drug use. Hemp and marijuana are
different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, though
the government rarely distinguishes between them.

"They say it's a tractor trailer full of drugs," Laprise said. "We say
it's a tractor trailer full of birdseed."

But while smoking marijuana delivers a psychoactive high, smoking hemp
gives only a headache. Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the
psychoactive component in marijuana, usually varies between 4 and 20
percent of a leaf. Industrial hemp has a THC below 1 percent.

The birdseed seized in Detroit had a THC content of barely .0014
percent, which wouldn't give a bird a buzz.

John Roulac, the president of Nutiva, a company in Sebastapol, Calif.,
that buys hemp seeds from Laprise's operation for food products, said
that seeds themselves have no THC, and whatever gets detected comes
from contact with leaves of the hemp plant.

Roulac said the amount of THC was "like an olive pit in a railroad

Laprise, whose company, Kenex Ltd., grows and processes hemp with the
approval of the Canadian government, said that "all of our other
products have no detectable level of THC. The only shipment with any
detectable amount was the birdseed, and it was really nothing."

Though the U.S. government today views hemp with suspicion, it was
historically an agricultural staple used in everything from ropes and
sails to clothing and the first American flag supposedly sewn by Betsy
Ross. It has been virtually illegal since 1937.

Last year, Canada declared hemp a legitimate crop and has granted
growers' licenses for 35,000 acres. Britain, France and Germany also
have commercial hemp industries. Hawaii, North Dakota and Minnesota
passed laws approving hemp this year as a crop for hard-pressed

Kenex's customers, who snap up Laprise's hemp seeds and fibers for
everything from food for animals and people to beauty products and
horse bedding, have been outraged by the seizure in Detroit.

"What in the heck are they doing arresting birdseed?" said Anita
Roddick, the British founder of the Body Shop, whose organic hair- and
skin-care products have used hemp oil produced by Laprise.

"It's so Monty Pythonesque," Ms. Roddick said, alluding to the antic
comedians who mocked life's absurdities. "They're chasing around
bloody birdseed. It's making the D.E.A. look stupid."

Federal law enforcement officials defended the seizure. D.E.A.
spokesman Terry Parham said, "Our understanding is there is no legal
way for hemp seed to have come in that contains any quantity of THC."
He explained that no product containing THC could be imported except
by a company registered with the D.E.A., and that no companies are

Drug-policy critics like Ethan Nadelmann, the president of the
Lindesmith Center, a New York group that advocates a more liberal drug
policy, reacted to the birdseed seizure with glee, contending that it
shows how dumb the war on drugs can get.

Laprise said the Customs Service also ordered him to recall his
earlier exports to the United States of hemp oil, horse bedding,
animal feed and granola bars, or face more than $500,000 in fines. He
cannot comply, he said, because the products have been used or

Meanwhile, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture assessing
the potential of hemp growing has made the rounds of the federal
government. The report's beige cover is stamped "Classified."

"I can't figure out why they classified this," said a government
official who let a reporter take a peek. The study said there was a
limited niche market for hemp products, like Laprise's birdseed.

Pubdate: Wed, 6 Oct 1999
Source: Winnipeg Sun (Canada)


Birds getting high? Canadian hemp seed could lead to breakdown of avian
society is U.S. Those crazy, nature-loving Americans are at it again.

Winnipeg, Ontario - In an attempt to protect the U.S. bird population from
falling into the clutches of an evil Ontario farmer, the U.S. Customs
Service recently confiscated, and is currently holding, 20 tons of his
birdseed at the border.

Why? Because apparently U.S. Customs believes that the birdseed is question
is just another enemy in the war on drugs. It's made from sterilized hemp
seed, which is a type of cannabis, and has a street value of $25,000. They
believe that if American birds get the stuff, they'll get so high that
they'll turn into avian hippies and hitchhike to Canada where the stuff is
being grown all nice and legal-like.

PBS in jeopardy

It's not just the mass exodus of backyard birds they're worried about, it's
the very real possibility that it will all end with a bloody collapse of the
entire public broadcasting nature TV show industry. Because once the birds
go, it's only a matter of time before all the other species follow. You get
it? It's all just part of a huge conspiracy.

Anyway, before I got around to calling Oliver Stone to get his take on the
whole thing, I tried to imagine the effect of feeding hemp seed to the birds
that hang out at our feeder. To begin with, our back yard birds aren't that
bright. It took them a year to find the feeder in the first place. So
getting them stoned would make them the equivalent of Spicoli from Fast
Times At Ridgemont High. With wings!

Of course the provision of high-grade seed would undoubtedly attract the
attention of my neighbors' birds, so things would get a little crowded
outside the dining room window. And instead of just flying into the patio
doors once a year (just often enough to go back and warn the others), they'd
be crashing into it hourly, littering my deck with the stunned bodies of the
little stoners who would be laughing.

Then one of them would get the idea to start a commune and birds would start
coming for miles around to live in the spirit of freedom and make pottery.
And eat Oreos.

Yeah, they'd come to feed in the early morning, and then by 10 a.m., they'd
be lying around on the grass, twisting dandelion chains, warbling Joan Baez
songs, and taking turns body painting each other. And when the cats started
showing up there'd be the big showdown with someone trying to jam a daisy
into the mouth of some feline who is only doing his job.

Then the chanting and the protests would start. Then more birds would come
and someone would get the idea that they should call it a love-in and hire
some bands. And the next thing you know... Woodstock. And maybe Snoopy. Or
at least Snoop Doggy Dog. This is 1999, after all.

Time for detox

Afterwards, the whole commune thing would just collapse once the seed ran
out and they'd tried growing their own and realized they couldn't because it
was sterile in the first place. The fighting would start and accusations of
"selling out to the man" would begin flying around. Body paint and daisies
would be thrown and then some of the angry young birds would head east where
the hemp seed is free and a bird can live by his own rules, dude.

A lot of birds would end up in detox, and some might even try to head back
to the U.S. and try to make a clean start selling high-tech camping gear.
And some would just keep hanging around my backyard, crashing into my patio
doors, dreaming of the old days and wondering if another shipment will come

And that's what happens when the first one's free.

501 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20001

October 8, 1999

Mr. Donnie Marshall
Acting Administrator
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
12060 Lincoln Place-West
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA  22202

Dear Mr. Marshall,

      I am writing in regards to a seizure and forfeiture of a
shipment of hemp seed from Canada on August 9, 1999 in Detroit,
Michigan. This seizure, I understand, was based on a decision by
officials of the Drug Enforcement Agency that the importation of hemp
seed is contrary to the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

     The Canadian shipper, Kenex Ltd., is a well-established
agricultural company in Canada engaged in the manufacture of hemp and
hemp products. On August 9th, DEA and U.S. Customs officials seized a
shipment of Kenex's products, however no formal, written notice has
been issued to the company by either agency.

     As Canadian authorities understand current legislative and
regulatory provisions, the sterilized seeds which are incapable of
germination are explicitly exempted from the Controlled Substance
Act's definition of marihuana. Similarly, DEA's own current definition
of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) is limited to
synthetic forms of THC, not to organically occurring THC such as those
found in Kenex products.

     Kenex's cargo of August 9th, valued at approximately $25,000 has
been forfeited, the company is faced with a number of $500,000, its
officers threatened with U.S. criminal charges and their U.S.
customers have been issued with summons to produce all records of
their commercial transactions with Kenex. Of particular concern is
that all of this has taken place without any formal or written notice
issued to them by either DEA or U.S. Customs officials.

     Canada considers this seizure action to be contrary to U.S. NAFTA
and WTO obligations. I am asking that you review this entire incident
at the earliest opportunity. This company has acted in good faith and
should expect to be afforded due process. Canadian authorities are
requesting that the shipment how sitting in the bonded warehouse in
Detroit be ordered released and redelivery notice should be rescinded.

Yours sincerely,
Douglas G. Waddel
Minister (Economic) and
Deputy Head of Mission

c.c.  Raymond Kelly
       U.S. Customs Service

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