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Building a Movement: the Lawsuit that gave Rise to Hemp History Week.

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

Colleen Keahey (HIA) on U.S. hemp history then and now: 1998 - 2018.

At Hemp History Week we feel very honored to kick-off our blog with an article by guest author Colleen Keahey! Colleen is the Executive Director of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), the founder and main driving force behind the Hemp History Week campaign.

For this first Hemp History Week blog post, I think a good place to begin is to share the history of how Hemp History Week came to be, and acknowledge how far we’ve come since a pivotal moment in the history of the hemp movement, eighteen years ago…

Eighteen years ago in 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initiated a hemp foods embargo. They claimed hemp foods were illegal to import because the products contained trace molecules of THC, a cannabinoid in marijuana or “marihuana” as spelled in the Controlled Substances Act. This sparked a rallying cry among leaders in the hemp movement, as of course hemp foods are not drugs. HIA business member Dr. Bronner’s sponsored the effort to unite HIA members in a legal challenge opposing the DEA’s interpretive ruling on hemp foods. This heroic act put hemp foods to the test. If you don’t already know the story, I have a spoiler for you – hemp foods win.

But let’s back up a moment—why did the DEA suddenly take an interest in hemp foods in 1999?

Just one year prior, in 1998, Canada had legalized commercial farming of industrial hemp, and began cultivating food-grade hemp seed, hemp seed oil and protein powders, to supply the largest consumer market for hemp products in the world: that of the U.S. Imports of hemp food and body care ingredients to the U.S. increased, and the DEA erroneously interpreted this market trend as an influx of drug trafficking.

It may surprise some readers, that many of the first members of the Hemp Industries Association, which was founded in 1994, were Canadian entrepreneurs such as Ruth Shamai of Ruth’s Hemp Foods, who joined the petition to oppose the DEA embargo that came to be known as the “Hemp Food Rules Challenge.” Along with Dr. Bronner’s, and other nascent U.S. hemp companies, Ruth knew the benefits of hemp, and sought to produce and market healthy hemp products to consumers who were increasingly recognizing the health advantages of organic plant-based diets and personal care.

After four years of litigation, the Ninth Circuit Court reached their final decision in the “hemp food rules challenge”, ruling that the DEA did not follow the proper actions for scheduling industrial hemp, a non-marijuana variety of Cannabis Sativa L. Further, the decision also expressed that the DEA "cannot regulate naturally-occurring THC not contained within or derived from marijuana-i.e., non-psychoactive hemp products-because non-psychoactive hemp is not included in Schedule I." - HIA USA LLC v. DEA.

By this time, the hemp industries in Canada were on their way to becoming a major producer for the U.S. natural products market. Though the “Hemp Food Rules Challenge” ruling protected the right to import, manufacture, and consume hemp products in the U.S., our farmers were still prohibited from growing hemp to supply our American market demand.

Clearly, public education around the benefits, history and modern day product applications of hemp was needed. With hemp foods firmly protected as a non-marijuana product, industry leaders in the U.S. led the effort to establish the first ever Hemp History Week campaign. The mission that remains today is to educate the public about the value of hemp as an agricultural commodity, its health benefits and sustainability. Though more and more Americans are consuming hemp products, we are still working to demystify hemp's conflation with marijuana and celebrate hemp's role in our American history.

Today, Dr. Bronner’s and other petitioners of the “Hemp Food Rules Challenge,” continue to demonstrate the importance of unity in the hemp movement, as we to this day stand against misguided federal policy that continues to malign industrial hemp with drugs.

As executive director of the HIA, I am grateful to the leaders before me who created the Hemp History Week campaign and proud that it continues to be an important annual event for our industry. Our 2018 campaign theme is "Deep Roots," which speaks to hemp's historic cultural relevance in our country's early economy and industry; and furthermore highlights how hemp has taken root domestically since legalization via the Farm Bill, Sec. 7606, four years ago. The HIA will continue to work to protect and ensure that the hemp industries go deeper to make pro-hemp policies that support the continued emergence of a thriving hemp economy in the U.S. And to do so, we need you! We need engaged citizens and conscious consumers to join the effort to restore hemp to our farmlands, to our grocery bags, and to our regenerative agriculture economy. Hemp History Week is not just about recognizing the history of hemp in the U.S., it’s also about shaping the future of hemp farming on American soil. If you value sustainability, if you value American entrepreneurship and the revival of small-scale farms around the country, join us in creating Hemp History Week 2018, and let’s legalize hemp farming in the U.S. for once and for all!


The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) is a non-profit trade association representing businesses, farmers, researchers and investors working with industrial hemp. They are at the forefront of the drive for fair and equal treatment of industrial hemp. Since 1994, the HIA has been dedicated to education, industry development, and the accelerated expansion of hemp world market supply and demand. If you are currently involved in the hemp industry, thinking of starting a hemp business, please consider becoming a member.


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