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Granola bars contain hemp seeds, Army warns

Some varieties of Strong & KIND bars contain hemp seeds, raising concerns that soldiers could test positive for drug use. (Photo: Army via kindsnacks.com)

Snacking “Strong & KIND” may put extra protein in your diet, but could also put you in danger of failing a drug test, the Army says.

The protein-focused line of increasingly popular KIND brand granola bars contains hemp seeds, according to both the Army and the company’s website.

The Army thinks the seeds used in the “Strong & KIND” line — which can contain low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) — could trigger a positive drug test.

Other lines of KIND bars, generally made of nuts along with fruit and other natural flavorings, do not contain hemp seeds. The Army & Air Force Exchange Service carries them in stores.

Flavors with the hemp seeds include Hickory Smoked, Roasted Jalapeno, Honey Mustard, Thai Sweet Chili and Honey Smoked BBQ.

Signs posted at some installations warn soldiers the bars are not allowed on post.

AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said that in March, AAFES issued a guidance alerting stores to the issue with Strong & KIND. He told the Army Times the offending bars have never been on AAFES shelves.

“Soldiers and airmen don’t need to worry that we are going to sell them something that is going to make them pop positive on a drug test,” Ward said. “If they can’t have it we’re not going to sell it.”

KIND spokeswoman Stephanie Peterson noted in an emailed statement to Army Times that the seeds come from plants with far less THC than the species of cannabis used to make marijuana. The bars adhere to U.S. Department of Agriculture testing standards, and have a THC level of 0.001 percent, she said.

The Army did not immediately answer questions about whether any soldiers have been reported as testing positive for drug use based on eating KIND bars, or how much of the snack soldiers would need to eat to test positive.

Army Regulation 600-85 para 4-2, (p) bans any soldier use of hemp or products containing hemp oil. Violations can result in Uniform Code of Military Justice punishment or administrative action, as noted in an April press release.

The USDA notes hemp seeds contain “high-quality, digestible protein.”

That’s why Strong & KIND contains the seeds, Peterson said.

“We include hemp seeds in our Strong & KIND bars because they contribute protein, fiber and other important nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus. Hemp, when combined with the protein from almonds, peas and pumpkin seeds, provides all nine essential amino acids,” Peterson wrote.

The Strong & KIND line advertises 10 grams of protein in a nutritious, 240-calorie snack. The company’s website lists all ingredients for each product. The company drew a warning from the Food & Drug Administration for claiming the bars as “healthy” because of high levels of saturated fat. But the company maintains that the nuts that elevate unsaturated fat totals have been found by studies to be “wholesome and nutritious.”

Snacking "Strong & KIND" may put extra protein in your diet, but could also put you in danger of failing a drug test, the Army says.

Kind bar hemp seeds

Washington, D.C. — In the military, granola bars could get you court-martialed.

But that could change, as the nation’s highest military appeals court considers whether the Air Force’s ban on ingesting products with hemp seeds or hemp seed oil serves a valid military purpose.

On October 11, in Washington, D.C., the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces heard arguments in a case involving Joseph Pugh, an Air Force major convicted of dereliction of duty by a panel of officers at a general court-martial for eating Strong & KIND snack bars. The outcome of his appeal will set a precedent for future cases involving service members who have eaten hemp products.

Department of Defense regulations prohibit service members from using controlled substances including marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids, but do not prohibit hemp products. And the different branches vary in their policies: The Air Force forbids ingesting products made from hemp seeds and hemp seed oil, the Coast Guard prohibits ingesting hemp oil and hemp oil products, while the Army prohibits the broader use of hemp and products containing hemp oil. The Navy and Marine Corps do not have formal hemp policies.

Hemp seeds and hemp products can be found in a variety of foods sold in grocery stores, coffee shops, and even in stores on military bases. Hemp product sales in the U.S. bring in roughly $600 million each year, according to the Hemp Industries Association. The seeds have gained popularity as a nutritional plant-based protein, but are often associated with marijuana, because both plants are of the genus Cannabis. Hemp, however, contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis.

The crux of this case is whether these foods could trigger a positive drug test, and thus should be banned so as to not cause confusion. Pugh’s defense for violating the Air Force hemp seed policy by eating the Strong & KIND bars is that the THC levels in commercially available hemp products are too low to cause a positive drug test or have psychoactive effects.

“The entire thing is absolutely absurd, and the fact that Pugh, a military doctor, is having his career decimated as a result of this, is just outrageous,” said David Sheldon, a lawyer for Pugh, told Cannabis Wire.

In the original trial, the court-martial judge granted the defense’s motion to dismiss the charge after conviction, writing in his ruling, “There simply is no credible reason to believe that these legal, commercially available food products pose the slightest threat to the integrity of the Air Force’s drug testing program.” The government appealed the decision to the Air Force Court of Appeals, which ruled that the judge erred in his decision. The case is now being reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which reviews decisions made by appellate courts for all military branches.

Because the appellate court is asked to rule on whether a lower court erred in dismissing the original charge, the court has the option of ruling in favor of Pugh without overturning the Air Force’s hemp seed ban. A ruling in favor of Pugh would nonetheless set a legal precedent and make it difficult to prosecute future cases of hemp seed ingestion.

As Maj. Annie Morgan, a lawyer for Pugh, began arguments, the panel’s chief judge interrupted to ask about the snack bars. “Is this some sort of granola thing?” Judge Scott W. Stucky asked.

“Your honor, it is marketed as a health food product,” Morgan responded.

“They’re delicious,” Judge Margaret A. Ryan added, explaining the bars come in several flavors.

Earlier this year, KIND Snacks, maker of the snack bar, relaunched its Strong & KIND products under a new name, Sweet & Spicy, without hemp seeds, but hemp can be found other brands’ products including energy bars, cooking oils, protein powders, and various beers.

Pugh’s defense at hearing argued that the prohibition is overly broad and without military purpose, since it bans “legal, well-regulated, commercially manufactured and sold food” that does not interfere with drug-testing equipment. They compared hemp seeds with poppy seeds, which contain similarly negligible levels of morphine and are not banned by the military.

Lawyers for the government argued that the ban is necessary for “military readiness” and the integrity of its drug-testing program. They argued that a manufacturing failure or purchase of unregulated hemp seeds online or overseas could cause a positive drug test, and that banning legal hemp seeds prevents service members from falsely claiming hemp seed ingestion as the reason for a positive drug test.

During the hearing, the judges questioned the motive for the ban. “It seems to me the government’s real argument here is one of convenience, [that] it’s going to be a lot easier to run this [drug] program if we don’t have to worry about an innocent ingestion defense” after a positive drug test result, Stucky said.

A lawyer for the U.S. government directed questions to the Air Force press office, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A decision is expected in the coming months when the judges release a written opinion, after they deliberate and vote on the case. And the hemp industry is watching closely.

“I think the ban is problematic because hemp food is such a fantastic nutrient-rich food,” Colleen Keahey, the executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, told Cannabis Wire. Keahey noted that her father is a former Air Force commander, adding, “In terms of quality health, military families should have that option.”

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Kind bar hemp seeds Washington, D.C. — In the military, granola bars could get you court-martialed. But that could change, as the nation’s highest military appeals court considers whether the