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DEA says marijuana, not hemp, taken from Menominee tribal land

Federal agents raid a hemp grow on the Menominee Indian Reservation, Oct. 23, 2015. (WLUK/Gabrielle Mays)

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency say they've seized 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants from Menominee Indian tribal land.

The DEA's side of the story is different from what the tribe is saying. Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw claims it was industrial hemp that was growing.

The area raided is a field just west of Suring, in Menominee County.

For much of the day, bulldozers were filling dump trucks with piles of plants. in this field on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

The DEA says the marijuana operation was led by growers from Colorado.

Erwin Sholts, the head and founder of the North American Industrial Hemp Council and 35-year employee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, says industrial hemp is different from marijuana in genetics, cultivation, and THC content.

"There is always a little bit of THC because the one flower may in the harvesting process may spill some THC onto the stalk and so on, but 3/10 of 1 percent is a general level of THC in industrial hemp and you can't make a drug out of it," said Sholts.

A DEA spokesperson tells Fox 11 the agency obtained a search warrant to search a residence, outbuilding, and about 20 acres of tribal land. The DEA says it seized 30,000 marijuana plants weighing over several thousand pounds.

The DEA's announcement came after Besaw issued a statement declaring feds ruined the tribe's hemp crop.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe," wrote Besaw in a statement. "We were attempting to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in accordance with the farm bill."

The tribe admitted there has been disagreement between it and the US Attorney on whether the tribe's operation is compliant with the farm bill. The tribe says it has 'offered to destroy certain strains of the industrial hemp crop that both sides had identified as problematic.'

The tribe says it plans to move forward with litigation to settle the question whether it can grow its industrial hemp crop.

The DEA says it has made no arrests and the investigation is ongoing.

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