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Rep. Jared Polis recently went on record stating that DEA boss Michele Leonhard “is a terrible agency head.” The liberal Colorado Democrat has a strong case, but there’s more to it than that. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a conservative Kentucky Republican, blasted the DEA for wasting limited resources by impounding hemp seeds destined for research and industrial purposes. Hemp cannot make a person high, but as we noted last year, hemp can be used in snacks, clothing, body-care products, paper, and as a building composite for housing and even car parts. The United States is the world’s leading consumer of hemp products, but these come from outside the country, primarily Canada. Until recently, the United States was the only major industrialized country to ban the growing of hemp, which the DEA still targets. This hurts the American economy, particularly farmers.
In May the DEA seized 250 pounds of hemp seeds sent from Italy to the University of Kentucky. In June it seized 350 pounds of Canadian hemp seeds destined for a farm in Colorado, where hemp cultivation is legal under the latest farm bill, as it is in Kentucky. Rep. Thomas Massie wondered how American farmers were going to grow hemp without seeds. Kentucky agriculture commissioner James Comer charged that the DEA was violating federal law. “The DEA doesn’t determine the law, Congress determines the law,” Comer told reporters. “That’s a problem we’ve got in our country: These government agencies have taken on a life of their own … and their number one priority, it seems, is self-preservation.”
The DEA campaign against legal hemp seeds suggests the commissioner has a strong case. With a budget approaching $3 billion, the DEA also continues to oppose the medical marijuana movement, which has advanced in 22 states. The DEA even maintains a museum in Arlington, Virginia. The displays include part of a California dispensary that federal agents shut down.