DEA Raids Wisconsin Indian Tribe; Destroys Hemp Crop; Claim Tribe was Growing Marijuana

DEA Raids Wisconsin Indian Tribe; Destroys Hemp Crop; Claim Tribe was Growing Marijuana

KESHENA, WI — The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin says federal agents raided their sovereign tribal lands Friday to destroy an industrial hemp crop they were growing in accordance with federal guidelines. Federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, meanwhile, claim the seized crop was actually high-grade marijuana.

The Menominee tribe legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp in May, in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill which created an exception to the Controlled Substance Act to allow for growth, cultivation and the study of industrial hemp through academic research pilot programs.

The Menominee’s hemp crop was always intended to be a legal crop as allowed by the 2014 Farm Bill, tribal leaders said Friday.  The crop was being grown as part of an agreement with the College of the Menominee Nation. Institutions of higher education are allowed to conduct industrial hemp research under the 2014 Farm Bill.

The hemp crop was planted on Menominee tribal lands, where the state of Wisconsin has no jurisdiction over tribal activities.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe,” Menominee tribal Chairman Gary Besaw said in a statement issued Friday. “We were attempting to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in accordance with the farm bill. We offered to take any differences in the interpretation of the farm bill to federal court. Instead, the Obama administration sent agents to destroy our crop while allowing recreational marijuana in Colorado. I just wish the President would explain to tribes why we can’t grow industrial hemp like the states, and even more importantly, why we don’t deserve an opportunity to make our argument to a federal judge rather than having our community raided by the DEA?”

Tribal leaders say they were trying to improve their financial situation by researching the potential economic opportunities of industrial hemp.

“What makes the actions taken today even more difficult to understand is that the federal government is very aware of the great unmet needs of Menominee,” said Besaw.  “Menominee County ranks at the bottom of the state in poverty and health statistics. The Tribe is trying to meet these needs by researching the potential economic opportunities of industrial hemp just as Congress intended when passing the Farm Bill.”

Tribal leaders say they have been transparent with the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding their cultivation of industrial hemp, but there has been a “disagreement” between the Menominee tribe and acting U.S. Attorney Greg Haanstad as to whether the hemp crop was in compliance with the 2014 Farm Bill.  Tribal leaders say they “worked tirelessly” to find a solution to disagreements with the US Attorney’s office, including offering to destroy parts of the crop that had been identified as “problematic” and offering to allow a federal judge to decide the disputed issues.

“These offers by the Tribe were rejected in favor of the aggressive unilateral action we saw today,” tribal leaders said in a press release Friday. “In light of the actions by the Department of Justice today, the Tribe now has no choice but to move forward with litigation to settle the question of its ability to grow industrial hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill.”

However, Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad told The Associated Press on Friday that he disagrees with the tribe’s characterization that the crop was industrial hemp. Haanstad said agents “executed federal search warrants on a large unlawful marijuana grow operation on tribal land and seized what agents describe as approximately 30,000 marijuana plants weighing a total of several thousand pounds.”

The DEA says the crops seized were not industrial hemp crops being grown by members of the Menominee tribe, but were marijuana plants being grown on tribal land by growers from Colorado. The DEA says that no arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing.

The tribe contends that disagreement over their compliance with the Farm Bill alone — including potentially high levels of THC in “problematic” crops — does not justify the actions of the DEA and the Department of Justice.

Department of Justice policy, in the form of the 2014 Cole Memorandum and the 2014 Wilkinson Memorandum, strongly discourage U.S. Attorneys and federal law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal cannabis laws in jurisdictions, including Tribal jurisdictions, that have legalized cannabis as long certain priority factors are not implicated. There are no Cole Factors impacted by the Tribe’s industrial hemp program and, as such, the U.S. Attorney’s Office should not be using scarce federal law enforcement resources in this manner, tribal leaders say.

An attorney for the tribe called the feds’ actions “very troubling.”

“The actions by the federal government here are very troubling,” says tribal attorney Tim Purdon. “Today DEA Agents in eastern Wisconsin are not investigating the distribution of heroin and prescription drugs that are causing an overdose epidemic across the country… Rather, today these Agents are preoccupied with the destruction of an industrial hemp crop that was intended to be planted and harvested legally under the 2014 Farm Bill. The waste of resources is exacerbated by the fact that the Tribe had agreed to act itself to destroy individual strains of the hemp crop that the Tribe and the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed were problematic. This misallocation of federal resources is exactly what the Cole and Wilkinson Memos were designed to prevent.”

Tribal leaders say they will peruse legal action in federal court to resolve the issue.

“The Tribe now has no choice but to move forward with litigation to settle the question of its ability to grow industrial hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill,” tribal leaders say.

Currently, 23 states have taken steps to remove barriers to the production of industrial hemp.

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