Alex White Plume sits near hemp plants that are growing wild outside his house near Manderson, S.D., in this this June 26, 2007 file photo. White Plume is trying to get a federal injunction lifted that prevents him from growing the crop. (Chet Brokaw, Associated Press file)

Ex-U.S. attorney wants feds to allow hemp on South Dakota reservation

FARGO, N.D. — The former U.S. attorney in North Dakota decided to take on his former employer by filing a motion Thursday to lift an 11-year-old federal injunction that prevents a man from growing industrial hemp on a South Dakota reservation.

Timothy Purdon, who now works for a Minneapolis-based law firm, contacted the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota several months ago in an effort to allow Oglala Sioux Nation member Alex White Plume to produce hemp, as the tribe legalized the crop in 1998 and last year’s federal farm bill allowed hemp to be grown through state agriculture departments and college research stations.

Federal prosecutors rejected his proposal, so Purdon filed his first motion in federal court since he left the DOJ in March.

“As a former U.S. attorney, I love the people at the Department of Justice,” said Purdon, the top federal prosecutor in North Dakota for almost five years. “But they are just wrong on the tribal sovereignty issue here.

“There is no reason that an industrial hemp farmer on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation should be treated differently than an industrial hemp farmer in Kentucky,” Purdon said. “We are hopeful the court will lift this injunction, which is a relic from an old, failed era of industrial hemp regulation.”

Randolph Seiler, acting U.S. attorney for South Dakota, declined comment. But in an earlier letter to Purdon, he said South Dakota law does not allow the production of hemp and there is not an exception in the farm bill where industrial hemp is authorized under tribal law and not state law.

Hemp can be used to make clothing, lotion and many other products, but growing it has been illegal under federal law because it is a type of cannabis plant and looks like marijuana. Many states have recently defined industrial hemp, which does not produce a high, as distinct from marijuana in order to allow its production.

The White Plume family, including Alex and his brother, Percy, planted hemp for three years from 2000 through 2002, but never harvested a crop. Federal agents conducted raids and cut down the plants each year. The injunction was ordered in December 2004.

Alex White Plume could not be reached for comment Thursday, but said in a June interview with The Associated Press that the federal government is violating treaties dating back 160 years.

“They should recognize our tribal sovereignty,” he said.