Farmers throughout the industrialized world grow hemp legally as a source for a diverse range of products including foods, fabrics, plastic, cosmetics, and building materials. Although hemp was once widely grown in the United States, modern efforts to cultivate hemp have been frustrated by federal drug-control laws because the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not distinguish between industrial hemp and psychotropic marijuana. Over the past decade, many states have enacted legislation liberalizing their laws regulating industrial hemp, and in 1999, North Dakota became the first state to create a full licensing scheme for hemp cultivation. However, farmers’ efforts to benefit from their state licenses have been stymied by an inability to obtain licenses from the DEA, licenses that are required under federal law.
This Comment examines the legislative history of the federal laws regulating hemp and marijuana, and the standards that the DEA is directed to apply when reviewing the applications of prospective industrial hemp farmers. It argues that, pursuant to the factors outlined by Congress, the DEA cannot legitimately deny or delay licenses to applicants who have been licensed under state regulatory systems like North Dakota’s. Finally, it explores possible avenues of recourse available under the Administrative Procedure Act for hemp-farming applicants whose requests for federal licensing are not timely approved.