DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of pounds of industrial hemp seeds bound from Canada to Colorado have been seized by federal authorities in North Dakota, marking the latest bump along the road to legalization of marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin.
At the center of the dispute is hemp activist Tom McClain. Armed with a copy of last year's federal Farm Bill, which allowed states to permit hemp cultivation for research and development, he set off for MacGregor, Manitoba, and bought 350 pounds of seeds used to grow a strain known as X-59 or Hemp Nut.
Hemp is legal in Canada, and North Dakota is one of 15 states with laws that allow limited hemp production. However, under the Farm Bill, importing hemp seeds requires permission from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
McClain's seeds were confiscated Saturday at the border crossing in Hansboro, North Dakota, after he says he declared the seven bags in his trunk. McClain, however, has not been charged with a crime.
"They treated me very professionally," McClain said after he returned to Colorado — without the seeds. "They were just a little confused as to what to do. According to them, I couldn't bring them in."
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed the seizure.
"The shipment is currently undergoing scientific evaluation, as hemp seeds can look much like marijuana seeds," Neudauer said in a statement.
The seizure underscored the difficulties facing the fledgling U.S. hemp industry after five decades of prohibition.
Hemp is prized for oils, seeds and fiber, but its production had been prohibited because the plant can be manipulated to enhance the psychoactive chemical THC — the intoxicant found in marijuana.
In another recent case, U.S. customs officials in Louisville, Kentucky, held a shipment of hemp seeds from Italy that was bound for research grows.