Lakota hemp crop dispute continues
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A federal judge last week expanded a lawsuit challenging the enforcement of drug laws in Indian Country.

Federal prosecutors are trying to prevent a family on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota from growing and selling hemp. They say Alex White Plume is cultivating an illicit substance.

But the White Plumes, and two companies that want to buy hemp from his family, are fighting what they say is an incursion on the Sioux Nation's sovereignty. On October 22, U.S. District Judge Richard Battey allowed Tierra Madre, a company incorporated in Delaware, and Madison Hemp of Kentucky to intervene as defendants in the case.

The U.S. Attorney's office in South Dakota did not oppose the addition of the new parties. They do dispute the defendants' interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which defines hemp in the same class as marijuana.

The two plants, however, differ in their chemical makeup. Hemp contains only a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana contains enough to give users its characteristic "high."

According to the two companies, tests they conducted on the White Plume crop indicate it is harmless. Federal authorities performed their own examination and found traces of marijuana and cocaine, according to a document submitted in court.

The test, conducted at a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lab, failed to state how much of either drug was present in the sample.

Asserting its treaty rights, the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe in 1998 passed a law to allow hemp cultivation. Tribal members have used hemp materials to build needed homes on the reservation.

The federal government contends the CSA abrogated the treaty. In court papers, the White Plumes and the companies dispute the claim.

"No court has ever held that the CSA abrogates the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 or any federal treaty," an October 22 filing by the companies stated.

The White Plumes have planted hemp twice in the past, only to see the crop destroyed by federal authorities. During a pre-dawn raid in August 2000 that drew national attention, about 25 armed agents from DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Northern Plains Safe Trails Drug Task Force stormed the reservation and seized more than 5,000 plants.

Battey has temporarily stopped the White Plumes from growing and selling hemp. Government attorneys are asking for a permanent injunction.

Battey plans to hold a hearing on the issue November 12.

Related Stories:
Hemp crop defended under Sioux treaty (09/09)
U.S. moves to stop Oglala Lakota hemp farm (8/15)
Editorial: Hemp may not help (12/12)
S.D. farmers support hemp (12/4)
Neb. hemp bill stalled (5/24)
Supreme Court says no to pot distribution (5/15)
Neb. hemp bill gains support (2/2)
US criticized for hemp raid (9/6)