Agriculture
4:58 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Kentucky's Hemp Saga Appears Headed for Court

Kentucky is on the verge of legally growing hemp for the first time in decades.
Kentucky is on the verge of legally growing hemp for the first time in decades.

Updated at 4:55 p.m: 

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will not have to go to court to win the release of 250 pounds of hemp seeds.  The seeds, imported from Italy, are being held by U.S. Customs officials in Louisville. Staff at the Agriculture Department spent much of Tuesday wrangling over the phone with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.  The DEA was holding the hemp seeds, despite language in the Farm Bill allowing Kentucky to import the seeds for research projects.  By the end of the day, the DEA agreed to release the seeds by the end of the week. 

Original post:

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is giving a federal agency until the end of the day on Tuesday  release 250 pounds of hemps seeds or else be taken to court. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration is holding the seeds, which have been imported for research projects with some Kentucky universities.  The seeds, shipped from Italy, are being held at a UPS warehouse in Louisville. 

The DEA argues the seeds can’t be released without a special permit, regardless of language in the Farm Bill. 

"If you will look at the Farm Bill, it starts off saying 'Not withstanding any other federal law.'  In spite of these other federal laws, Congress intended that we still be allowed to do this," says Holly VonLuerhte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.  "Under DEA's interpretation,  we have the authority to conduct pilot programs but we don't have the authority to get the seeds, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."

Obtaining a DEA permit could take several months, making it impossible to plant the seeds this year. 

"We've been told by agricultural experts if we don't have this industrial hemp seed in the ground by June 1, then the likelihood is that it won't come up," adds VonLuerhte.

The state is prepared to go to federal court in Louisville Wednesday and ask a judge to force U.S. Customs officials to release the seeds.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has received one shipment of seeds that came from within the U.S.  Those seeds are supposed to be planted for a research project in Rockcastle County on Friday.