Pubdate: Thu, 22 May 2014
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2014 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Janet Patton


LOUISVILLE - A week after suing the federal government for the release
of a shipment of hemp to plant, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture
appears to be on the verge of getting its seeds.

After a second conference with U.S. District Judge John Heyburn on
Wednesday, the KDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration reached a
deal: the state, now a licensed importer of controlled substances as
of Tuesday, will file paperwork for a permit to plant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schecter, representing the Justice
Department and the DEA, said once the permit is approved the seeds
could be released immediately.

"We're waiting for this application," Schecter told Heyburn. "Once
it's approved, the logistics are what the logistics are." The DEA had
received the permit and was reviewing it Wednesday night as the seed
continued to be held at the Louisville airport.

In an effort to speed the process along, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell,
R-Louisville, met late Wednesday with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.

"I again expressed my frustration that the DEA is using its finite
resources to stymie plainly lawful hemp pilot projects at the very
time Kentucky is facing growing threats from heroin addiction and
other drug abuse," McConnell said in a statement afterward.

"I called on the DEA administrator to release the industrial hemp
seeds so that Kentucky can begin its pilot program," McConnell said.
"I also stressed that as the author of the industrial hemp provision,
the intent of this provision is to allow states' departments of
agriculture and universities to explore the commercial use of
industrial hemp as a means for job creation and economic development.
The language expressly exempts hemp from federal regulation for these
defined purposes."

According to McConnell's office, Leonhart pledged to expedite review
of Kentucky's pending import permit, apparently, the last bureaucratic
hurdle before release of the industrial hemp seeds.

The KDA sued the Justice Department, the DEA, U.S. customs and Border
Protection and Attorney General Eric Holder last week to force the
release of 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed imported for several pilot

The Farm Bill approved this year, with McConnell's language, and
signed by President Obama allows state departments of agriculture and
institutes of higher learning to grow hemp legally for the first time
in decades.

One hitch remains for Kentucky: Agriculture Commissioner James Comer
had planned to grow some of the hemp using private farmers. The DEA
originally said that wasn't possible.

But Heyburn negotiated a compromise: the farmers could be made
extensions of the KDA by memos of understanding that require them to
adhere to state and federal regulations.

"In concept, this seems not any different (from research institutions
growing it), Heyburn said. "It seems as though what we've outlined
here ties it down pretty well."

Schecter said the permit can proceed while the DEA continues to
evaluate policy.

Comer's chief of staff, Holly Harris Von Luehrte, said afterward that
Comer would be speaking with the six universities to decide which ones
get seed and how much.

She said that ideally the seeds need to be planted by June

At least three private growers who are working with state universities
should still be able to plant and grow hemp this year, she said.

A planting planned for Rockcastle County was delayed pending the
outcome of the case.

For now, Heyburn issued no official order but left open the
possibility of further intervention to mediate the issues.
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