A clash between legalization advocates and hemp industry players is heading to court while the Minnesota Legislature moves closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Steven Brown and Glenn McElfresh, two outspoken hemp industry advocates and business owners, are suing the main lobbying group pushing for recreational marijuana legalization, accusing it and one of its associates of defaming them online and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

They allege that the pro-legalization nonprofit MN is Ready, and Crested River Cannabis Co. owner Shawn Weber, attacked them for raising concerns about how the marijuana legalization bill might affect the hemp industry.

"I got threats online from people," said Brown, owner of Nothing But Hemp. "People were believing that my company was not for full legalization, which is not true."

McElfresh, co-founder of the hemp-infused beverage company Plift, said he also was accused of opposing marijuana legalization. He said Weber attempted to bad-mouth Plift to its customers.

"I've worked in the cannabis industry for almost 10 years," McElfresh said. "If you say that I'm anti-legalization, you're hurting my business."

MN is Ready issued a statement last week calling the lawsuit a "frivolous public relations stunt" backed by "two of the most vocal opponents of legalization."

In an interview, Weber acknowledged that his behavior may not have been professional, but he said it was necessary to stop Brown and McElfresh from mischaracterizing important aspects of the bill.

"They keep insisting that it's going to kill hemp," said Weber, who's also president of the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative. "That is fundamentally not true."

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an ongoing feud between Brown's hemp lobby and the MN is Ready legal marijuana coalition. It reflects a broad national schism between hemp — legal under federal law — and marijuana.

But it also pits hemp business owners, including Brown and Weber, against each other.

Some in Minnesota's hemp industry have cried foul over the marijuana bills passed by the House and Senate, saying they threaten to dismantle the lightly regulated hemp-derived THC edible market that emerged up last year.

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis but hemp is classified under state and federal law as containing less than 0.3% of delta-9 THC, the cannabis ingredient that causes a high.

Hemp advocates have argued their products shouldn't be subject to the same tax and stringent regulations as federally illegal marijuana. Brown said he's worried the hemp industry would be "usurped" into the broader marijuana market under the current bill, instead of being regulated in a way that lets it stand on its own.

"The hemp issues would basically put hemp businesses at harm's way," Brown said.

Others say changes to the bill do go far enough to protect hemp businesses and their ability to maintain tax benefits, access banking and accept credit cards — things that marijuana-based businesses are unable to do.

"I sell everything that Steve sells," Weber said. "And guess what? I stand to potentially lose revenue. I potentially stand to lose customers. But this isn't about Crested River. This is about the citizens of Minnesota. This is about passing legalization."

Brown's and McElfresh's lawsuit seeks at least $50,000 in damages.