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Hemp Seeds Are for the Birds ... Or Are They?

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In Palm Beach County, Fla., what started out as just another student fad has turned into a murky legal issue that has district officials grappling with how to deal with students who are smoking bird seed to get high.

When Johnny McKenzie, director of security for the Palm Beach County School Board, heard that some youths in his 73,000-student district were mashing, rolling, and smoking hemp seeds--a high-quality bird seed that is sold in local pet stores--he decided to investigate further.

First, labrador retrievers used by the district to sniff out narcotics in the schools successfully detected hemp seeds in the schools. Next, a crime-lab criminal-evaluation test found that the seeds contained three psychoactive ingredients that are found in marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol (thc). And the test found that the seeds are capable of germination. "Those seeds that the kids can go out and buy--they can also grow them," Mr. McKenzie said.

The seeds, which sell in West Palm Beach pet stores for $1.25 to $1.40 a pound, are said to give students one-third to one-half the high that marijuana produces, Mr. McKenzie said.

After sharing the test results with Superintendent Thomas J. Mills, Mr. McKenzie last week sent a letter to the district's 102 principals stating that "it is illegal to possess hemp seeds on school grounds." Furthermore, he said, the district intends to treat students who are found to be in possession of hemp seeds in the same way as those who have marijuana--they will suspend them for up to 10 days.

Robert S. Schwartz, assistant state attorney for juvenile justice, said last week that any substance that contains thc or cannibis is covered in the statute that relates to marijuana possession and use.

Under that statute, Mr. Schwartz said, "if someone is caught with the seeds, it would be violative of the section. We would treat it as possession of marijuana. ... There is no reason we wouldn't prosecute."

Mr. Schwartz did note that there would be a problem of proving an individual in possession of the hemp seed intended to use it to get high, not to feed his or her birds.

In recent weeks, a number of pet-store operators and veterinarians in the Palm Beach County area have said the only thing the seeds do is make birds fat. And one bird specialist wrote in a newspaper column that it is impossible to get high by smoking the seeds.

"The kids could smoke that and chew it and eat it until they're blue in the face," he said. "You can't get stoned on it."

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