you'd have to eat 450 bags of hemp chips within about an hour for THC, the active ingredient in pot, to even begin registering in your blood. But try telling that to the Americans. Take the travails of Chatham-based hemp seed producer Kenex. The company thought it had an agreement that would allow it to sell its product in the U.S. after it threatened to sue U.S. Customs for seizing 40,000 pounds of hemp birdseed that the Americans said showed trace amounts of THC.
But last fall, the DEA issued a surprise "clarification of the rules" making any consumable trace of THC illegal; everything from hemp pretzels to salad dressing will be banned as of February 6. Kenex has joined the Hemp Industry Association and six American hemp companies in a civil suit against the DEA.
But the company has also decided to go another route in its latest tiff, this time claiming a breach under Chapter 11 of NAFTA and seeking more than $20 million in damages.
The very NAFTA regulations used by Ethyl Corp to force the Canadian government to repeal its ban on the contentious gasoline additive MMT are now being used by Kenex to defend its environmentally heralded hemp products.
"Under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, member countries can't treat foreigners any worse than domestic companies," says Kenex attorney Todd Weiler.
Kenex argues that the ban discriminates against Canadian producers since most hemp products come to the U.S. from Canada, and Kenex's competitors, the producers of poppy and flax seed products, don't have to worry about the ban.
The U.S.'s treatment of Kenex has led the Canadian government to pipe up on the matter. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAIT) recently sent a letter to the DEA cautioning that the ban would violate World Trade Organization rules requiring that risk-assessment tests be run before products are banned.
Says DFAIT deputy director of trade Andre Lemay, "We don't feel the ban is legitimate. We say, "Show us the proof.'"
The DEA, which has yet to respond to the government's letter, declined to comment.
Says Adam Eidinger, of the U.S. hemp advocacy group VoteHemp, "There's a lot more caffeine in a cup of decaf than there is THC in hemp foods."