In a recent response to a White House petition, President Barack Obama's drug czar warned of danger in the domestic production of industrial hemp, drawing a stunned reaction from the petition's author, who told Raw Story on Wednesday that it was "like getting hit in the head with a hammer."

The claim by former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, his second response to a marijuana-related White House petition, is not surprising as it reflects current U.S. policy toward marijuana. It is, however, simply not true that THC in hemp poses any sort of potential for abuse, as it is impossible to become "high" from ingesting the plant.

"America’s farmers deserve our Nation’s help and support to ensure rural America’s prosperity and vitality," he wrote. "Federal law prohibits human consumption, distribution, and possession of Schedule I controlled substances. Hemp and marijuana are part of the same species of cannabis plant. While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, can contain THC, a Schedule I controlled substance. The Administration will continue looking for innovative ways to support farmers across the country while balancing the need to protect public health and safety."

Tom Murphy, author of the White House petition and national outreach coordinator for advocacy group Vote Hemp, told Raw Story that he was stunned by Kerlikowske's response, which he said came only after he'd repeatedly followed-up with them for months.

"I'm really at a loss as to why they sat on this for seven months before releasing a one paragraph response," Murphy said, noting that he'd even previously met with administration officials to brief them what hemp is. "It's really quite stunning. It's stunning like getting hit in the head with a hammer."

"The definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act is verbatim from the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which specifically exempts seeds incapable of germination, mature stalks, fiber, oil and seed cake," he added. "That is where Director Kerlikowske's response really falls short: even though hemp is not mentioned in the Controlled Substances Act, the exemption from the definition of marijuana is exactly what hemp is."

That very argument is actually why hemp food products are legal in the U.S. today. After President George W. Bush's Drug Enforcent Agency (DEA) issued a blanket order in 2001 banning all foods with even trace amounts of THC, Vote Hemp fought back and won before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous ruling (PDF) that recognized the distinct differences between marijuana and hemp. Unfortunately for reform advocates, that same level of nuance was completely absent from Kerlikowske's petition response.

"They didn't even respond to our petition," Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Raw Story. "Their response was about marijuana. They'd already responded to other petitions about marijuana. We aren't asking them to allow anybody to grow marijuana. It's insulting and ridiculous they're not even willing to acknowledge the fact that hemp is not marijuana."

He added that "it's really frustrating" to have published a successful petition on the site, only to get a response that was "a joke."

As if to affirm Steenstra's characterization of the response, Kerlikowske copied and pasted his earlier response to a White House petition on marijuana in which he explained that the administration is "interested" in the potential medical uses of marijuana -- a position that has so far not been reflected in policy.

Industrial hemp is a commonly used fiber that's in tens of thousands of products currently sold inside the U.S., and has a long history of use by the U.S. government. During World War II, for instance, the government urged farmers to grow hemp for military use. The fibers were used for dozens of practical solutions, including uniforms, paper, parachutes, rope and more. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even produced a film called "Hemp for Victory," which the Reagan administration refused to acknowledge existed.

However, because it shares significant portions of its genetics with marijuana, American farmers are forbidden to produce industrial hemp, essentially banning them from joining an industry that's enjoyed direct access to American consumers for decades. There is one bill currently pending which could overturn that, proposed by Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA), but it's been floundering in Congress for years without a Senate version to match it.

This short film, "Hemp for Victory," was produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during World War II.

Photo: A still from the 1936 U.S. government propaganda film "Reefer Madness." 

(H/T: Toke of the Town)