Snacks can make people obese and high-wired. But get them fired? A U.S. Border Patrol agent dismissed from his job earlier this year after testing positive for drugs is blaming a San Diego-based manufacturer of hemp bars for his downfall. Michael Baranic, a San Diego attorney representing the fired agent, said his client’s troubles started last year after he ate Govinda’s Fitness Foods hemp bars just before a random drug test.
The Border Patrol fired the agent in May based on the results of the test, which indicated the presence of psychoactive chemicals in his blood.
“My client has never used (illegal) drugs,” said Baranic, adding that he would seek reinstatement, back pay and attorney’s fees for the former agent at a hearing this month before the government’s Merit System Protection Board.
Baranic declined to divulge the name of his client. Border Patrol spokesman Raleigh Leonard said he could not comment on the case or reveal the agent’s name because it’s a personnel matter.
The dispute comes as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold a Drug Enforcement Administration rule banning the sale of food made with hemp.
Hemp food products typically contain trace elements of the mind-altering substance Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is found in marijuana. The DEA contends that the consumption of any amount of THC is illegal.
The Border Patrol agent is hardly the first to invoke the so-called “hemp defense.”
Several studies conducted in the mid-1990s found that the use of hemp seed oil could trigger positive test readings for low levels of THC, according to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.
Indeed, the U.S. Air Force banned the use of hemp by its service people several years ago after Master Sgt. Spencer Gaines was exonerated by a court-martial jury after testing positive for marijuana use.
Gaines asserted during the trial that the test results stemmed from his consumption of hemp oil, which is used in hemp food products.
Likewise, Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin Boyd was acquitted by a court martial jury in 1998 of a single count of using marijuana after he blamed the use of hemp oil for his troubles.
But representatives of Govinda’s and the hemp industry said that the hemp defense has rarely been used by defendants in drug cases in the last couple of years because strict processing of the hemp crop, which is largely grown in Canada, has virtually eliminated THC residue.
“You’d have to do 500 pounds of steady eating to get a buzz,” said Larry Gatpandan, a co-founder of Govinda’s.
Gatpandan said he first heard of the fired Border Patrol agent’s allegations against his company earlier this year when he received an affidavit from the government asking him to certify that Govinda’s hemp bars were free of THC.
“I didn’t sign it,” he said. “They’re trying to ruin the reputation of my company.”
Govinda’s sold $200,000 worth of hemp bars last year. That’s about 20 percent of the firm’s total revenues.
Overall, hemp products account for about $40 million in annual sales in the U.S. food and body-care sectors and $100 million in sales in the fiber sector, according to the Hemp Industry Association.
David Bronner, chairman of the association’s food and oils committee, said hemp is being used as a scapegoat by drug users caught in the drug-testing mill. Bronner is the president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap in Escondido.
“Some people smoke marijuana, get desperate and look for an excuse,” Bronner said.
Bronner noted that hemp oil – which is used in Govinda’s hemp bars – contains only 5 parts per million of THC.
And hemp oil makes up only 10 percent to 20 percent of the ingredients in Govinda’s product.
“There’s no way the THC would show up in a drug test,” Bronner said.
Bronner said the U.S. hemp industry is awaiting the court decision on the DEA ban with apprehension.
Last October, the DEA declared that food products containing even trace amounts of THC were banned under the Controlled Substances Act.
The DEA ordered a halt in the production and distribution of all goods containing THC that were intended for human consumption.
It ordered all such products to be destroyed or removed from the United States by March 18.
However, the 9th Circuit said the government cannot enforce the new regulation until the court rules on challenges to it.
Note: Man says the snack caused a positive result on drug test.