Here's a little cautionary tale about the insanity of U.S. anti-drug policies, the ways of academic bureaucracy, and police mentality.
Members of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Connecticut wanted to have a "hemp-themed bake sale" to raise money for a conference.
(You need to understand that selling, buying and consuming "industrial hemp" products in the U.S. are completely legal. You've probably done it without realizing it: industrial hemp is used in everything from fabrics to carpeting to auto parts. The only illegal thing about this non-intoxicating relative of marijuana is that you can't grow it in this country, and Congress and several states are now moving to make it legal — but more on that later.)
One of the reasons to do a hemp-themed bake sale, aside from raising cash, was to make people aware of oddities in U.S. drug policies, says Kevin Oliveira, vice president of the school's SSDP chapter.
Naturally, the sensible-drug-policy folks asked UConn officials if they could have a table to use. Here's where things began to get tricky.
UConn Student Union's Event Services Office, evidently unfamiliar with the fact that an estimated $500 million worth of products using hemp are sold in the U.S. every year, decided they better ask UConn police about this hemp-bake-sale table issue.
Oliveira then got an e-mail from April Isley, associate director of event services. She explained she contacted the cops "because I was unsure of the properties hemp may have when consumed. I was alerted that it does contain THC [the chemical that produces marijuana highs]. Please let me know if you would still like to move forward with a bake sale which does not have hemp baked into the goods."
When Oliveira met with Isley to explain that the THC in industrial hemp is so small that it can't possibly produce intoxication, Isley said she'd gotten her information from UConn Police Sgt. Dan Gugliotti. So Oliveira tried repeatedly to contact Gugliotti, who is allegedly in charge of UConn's drug enforcement unit and should presumably understand the difference between pot and legal industrial hemp.
Oliveira says he tried to reach Gugliotti "about 30 times and left him at least five voicemails" as well as sending e-mails. Gugliotti finally sent back an e-mail reply on Sept. 14 that included the following:
"Neither myself [nor] the Police Department makes the decision on whether or not your organization can have a bake sale. I was asked a question specifically about Hemp. And provided the following facts. Hemp contains THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)… a federally controlled Schedule I substance and is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. As a law enforcement professional I cannot endorse or encourage its use." Perhaps Sgt. Gugliotti should get a copy of July 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service entitled "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity."
Among other interesting information, the 25-page report states that industrial hemp "is characterized by plants that are low in THC." It goes on to explain that the hemp used legally in the U.S. for so many purposes has THC levels "generally less than one percent… A level of about one percent THC is considered the threshold for cannabis to have a psychotropic effect or an intoxicating potential. Current laws regulating hemp cultivation in the European Union (EU) and Canada use 0.3 percent THC as the dividing line between industrial and potentially drug-producing cannabis." (Much of the hemp used in the U.S. comes from Canada, the EU, China and India.)
"In your email," Gugliotti added toward the end of his Sept. 14 response, "you state hemp is safe for human consumption, I am not qualified to make an assessment in this area and as such am not willing to assume the liability of endorsing its use at a university event."
Oliveira then supplied UConn's nervous event services folks with numerous court rulings that consumption of hemp was totally legal. Oliveira added that he was completely confident in the legality of hemp products, "otherwise how could we buy hemp seeds, oil, and milk at any Whole Foods in the country?"
Last week, following what Oliveira describes as a "tense meeting" with event-services officials, the bake-sale table saga was resolved and university officials gave their (apparently) reluctant approval for the sale to go ahead.
Sgt. Gugliotti, however, wasn't quite done. In a Sept. 18 e-mail to event services, he warned that "Under Connecticut driving under the influence laws, a person found to have ANY amount of THC would be in violation… I am sure you can see the liability if an accident occurred and it was determined that the operator had THC in their system obtained at a university sanctioned event."
Gugliotti also felt compelled to mention a recent $5 million lawsuit settlement against UConn. That case, actually, had nothing at all to do with hemp, THC, marijuana or Connecticut's driving-under-the-influence law. The settlement resulted from a 2011 accident when a university student was run over and killed by a UConn shuttle bus, an incident that happened when the bus driver was waving at another driver.
Gugliotti added in a separate Sept. 18 e-mail that, "my advise [sic] going forward would be to get an opinion from the Attorney Generals office on campus." Oliveira says the event services officials then back-tracked and insisted the bake sale couldn't involve any hemp-related products.
Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia have all passed legislation redefining industrial hemp as an agricultural product and authorized regulated production, according to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
Once upon a time, before U.S. officials got all weird about marijuana, hemp was routinely grown in America. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both cultivated it, primarily for rope, clothing and paper.
There are bills pending in both the U.S. House and Senate to legalize hemp as an agricultural product so we don't have to continue to import it from other countries.
The SSDP bake sale happened on Monday, Sept. 23. The organizers fully intended to defy UConn and sell hemp-related items. Unfortunately, says Oliveira, the event turned out to "involuntarily" be hemp-free.
"We went to the six closest grocery stores, and none of them sold any hemp products," he explains.
"The event-services people did come and hassle us anyway," says Oliveira, "to make sure we weren't lying about not having any hemp."
Other than that, the non-hemp-themed thing "went off without a hitch," Oliveira says. "We sold out... and made $50."
[Editors note: This story has been changed. We removed the name of an organization that was incorrectly listed as a co-sponsor of the SSDP hemp-themed bake sale.]