BISMARCK, N.D. – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the U.S government by two North Dakota farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp.
Judge Daniel Hovland said the farmers should take their fight to Congress.
His ruling late Wednesday mirrored comments he made when he heard arguments in the case earlier this month. Hovland told lawyers that the best remedy might be to change the definition of industrial hemp under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which does not distinguish the plant from the illegal drug marijuana.
"Congress can best address this problem," Hovland wrote in his decision to dismiss the lawsuit.
Wendy Ertmer, a Justice Department lawyer who represented the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in the hemp lawsuit, declined comment Thursday. A spokesman for the agency did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Plaintiff's attorney Tim Purdon said he was disappointed in the ruling. He said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.
Legislation introduced in Congress last February would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana, but no hearings have been held on the bill. Hemp can be used for a variety of products, from rope to lotion, and farmers view it as a possibly lucrative new crop.
North Dakota farmers Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson, who also is a state legislator, had sued to bar the federal government from prosecuting them for growing industrial hemp under state regulations approved last year.
The farmers did apply to the DEA for permission, but the agency has not acted on their request.
Hemp falls under federal anti-drug rules because it has trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical THC that is found in marijuana.
Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, the nonprofit lobbying group that funded the farmers' lawsuit, called Hovland's ruling disappointing, saying it overlooks the original intent of Congress.