Pubdate: Fri, 16 May 2014
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2014 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Janet Patton


A federal judge in Louisville has scheduled a hearing for Friday on
the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's motion to force the U.S.
Justice Department to release imported hemp seeds.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II has set a 1 p.m. hearing on a
motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction filed
Wednesday by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. The state has
imported 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed that must be planted by June
1. U.S. Customs in Louisville has detained the seeds for more than a

Meanwhile, a group of Rockcastle County farmers who plan to legally
put hemp seeds in Kentucky soil for the first time in decades have
delayed their planting, at least temporarily.

"We've got all these people coming in from all over the country," said
Mike Lewis, executive director of Growing Warriors, the group of
military veteran farmers who plan to grow hemp in conjunction with
Kentucky State University. "We can't do much. We're going to remain
hopeful the commissioner will get this worked out."

Lewis said they might have a protest against the Drug Enforcement
Administration's actions and stall for time, in case Heyburn hands
down a ruling.

"We'll plant some chocolate-covered hemp seeds and point out the
hypocrisy of the situation," Lewis said. "And we'll be ready at 1:30
if we get the call."

His group had planned on planting hemp seeds donated by a California
company and apparently imported without a problem.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell called on the DEA to
release the hemp seeds that have been held in Louisville.

The Agriculture Department imported the seeds for university research
projects, but the DEA has blocked their release, saying the state must
have a controlled-substance import permit.

Comer filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Louisville to
force the Justice Department to hand over the seeds.

"No state should have to endure what Kentucky has gone through in this
process. We must take a stand against federal government overreach,"
Comer told The Associated Press.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the DEA, U.S. Customs and Border
Protection, the Justice Department, and U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder. The Justice Department has not commented on the suit.

In a statement released Thursday morning, McConnell weighed

"I take a back seat to no one in working to protect Kentucky
communities from dangerous drugs such as heroin. It is an outrage that
DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp
seeds. The agency should immediately release the hemp seeds so
Kentucky pilot projects can get under way, which will ultimately lead
to more economic opportunities in our state."

The Senate minority leader inserted language into the federal Farm
Bill earlier this year that allows state departments of agriculture,
in conjunction with colleges and universities, to grow industrial hemp
for research purposes.

The top Democratic challenger for McConnell's Senate seat, Kentucky
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said in a statement that
she supported the Farm Bill "that allowed Kentucky to move forward
with hemp for research, and believes the federal government needs to
stop picking on Kentucky on this matter."

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, a longtime advocate for
legalizing hemp, also called on the DEA to release the seeds.

"It is completely unacceptable for federal agencies to hold legal hemp
seeds that will be used for Kentucky's legal hemp pilot projects,"
Paul said in a statement. "The seeds should be released immediately so
Kentucky can implement the projects and we can move forward with the
reintroduction of industrial hemp, which has great potential to create
jobs in our state."

Hemp once was a major crop in Kentucky but has long been outlawed
along with marijuana, a related plant. The Farm Bill distinguishes
hemp because of its negligible levels of THC, the high-inducing
compound in marijuana.

The DEA contends that the language legalizes growing but does not
address importation, so a controlled substance permit is required. The
Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission bought the seed using donated funds.

However, the state Agriculture Department, in its lawsuit, argues that
the Farm Bill language specifically supersedes other federal laws,
including the Controlled Substances Act and import/export

The DEA also has told Comer's office in a letter that the state and
the universities cannot assign their authorities to grow hemp to
private farmers, calling into question plans to plant hemp on Friday
in Mount Vernon.

"There's no question that universities can move forward," said Comer's
chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuerhte. "The questions are the import
issues and whether these private farmers can donate land and labor to
the KDA and the universities."

Comer's office asked the Rockcastle County farmers to hold off on
planting until Heyburn has issued a ruling for fear of putting anyone
in jeopardy.

Lauren Stansbury, spokeswoman for Vote Hemp, said her group will be in
Rockcastle County to support the Kentucky farmers.

"What's upsetting is this was meant to be a really important day for
them, honoring them, many of whom are military veterans," she said.
"We're definitely frustrated by this. ... These farmers ought not be
liable for arrest. But we just don't want to risk that. We don't want
them to spend even one night in jail."

The DEA also has not intervened in states, including Colorado, that
legalized marijuana use in 2012.

Colorado agriculture authorities have approved more than 100
hemp-growing operations, The Associated Press reported. Most of it
will be small in scale, with total production of less than 1,700 acres.
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