Two North Dakota farmers were back in court Nov. 12, arguing before the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals that the federal government should not be allowed to block their attempts to farm nonnarcotic industrial hemp. Specifically, the farmers argue that because their proposed cultivation is an entirely intrastate proposition, sanctioned by state law, the Constitution's commerce clause precludes the Drug Enforcement Administration's ability to regulate their hemp farming within the state. "The question is whether the mere existence of [the hemp] plant on the farmers' property can affect" marijuana commerce, the farmers' attorney Joe Sandler argued to the court. "The answer to that is no."
North Dakota lawmakers in 1999 passed legislation that would allow state farmers to cultivate industrial hemp - a cousin of the drug marijuana that contains only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the drug's main psychoactive ingredient. Hemp was once a major American staple crop (the federal government actually encouraged farmers to grow it during World War II), but by the end of the 1950s (thanks to a variety of factors, including a weakened market), the crop disappeared from the landscape.