Menominee Tribal Chairman defends industrial hemp grow

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

For the first time since a DEA raid, the leader of the Menominee Indian Tribe is speaking out, claiming the tribe did nothing wrong.

The tribe says it was growing industrial hemp, but the DEA says it was high-grade marijuana.

Whether the plants are industrial hemp or high-grade marijuana, Menominee Indian Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw says a federal raid should have never happened last Friday on tribal land.

"We believed we were well within limits," said Besaw. "If it was above limits, we were ready to take the appropriate action."

The limit Gary Besaw is talking about pertains to THC. The amount of THC is a distinguishing difference between marijuana and industrial hemp. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, industrial hemp can't have a THC level above .3 percent.

Besaw says the tribe has tried to work in good faith with federal authorities since it started its hemp operation in early July.

"We had an open door policy," said Besaw. "Come see us, you can come look, test it. If we were trying anything clandestine, I don't think that would have been a wise approach to do that."

The DEA says in its raid it seized 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants, weighing several thousand pounds. A search warrant shows federal agents tested several random plants. An initial test came back negative, with a second being positive. The warrant also shows federal agents found Colorado residents working with the tribe, one advertising himself on Linked-In as a cannabis consultant.

Besaw says back in July, he provided federal authorities with a list of everyone who would be involved with the hemp project.

"It's not a secret," said Besaw. "I'm perplexed by what happened. This doesn't make sense to me."

The tribe plans to go to court, hoping for clarification on whether its operation was compliant under the farm bill.

No arrests have been made. The DEA has said the investigation is on-going.

No one from any of the federal agencies involved has been willing to do an interview on the case.

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