DEA, Ky. battle over hemp seeds nearly over

State commission approves regulations for pilot projects to satisfy federal government

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission approved regulations Tuesday for pilot projects that have become entangled in legal proceedings over a 250-pound shipment of hemp seed being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Louisville.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture filed suit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies last week, seeking the release of 250 pounds of seed from Italy meant for the educational projects through public universities.

Both sides have made progress on an agreement, said KDA attorney Luke Morgan of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and DEA inspected and approved the KDA’s storage facilities for the hemp seed Tuesday morning in advance of a state hearing before U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II today.

The DEA indicated it would process KDA’s import registration and permit within three days of receipt, and the KDA agreed to provide the DEA memorandums of understanding with each university that will be conducting pilot projects, according to a court order filed Monday.

“We’re very happy to tell you that on behalf of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, it appears that we should be getting these seeds that have been held in the Louisville airport over here very soon,” Morgan told the commission. “… It’s a shame that it’s had to come to a lawsuit, but nevertheless the department has been pursuing this important legislative initiative vigorously.”

The panel approved the regulations, pending any technical and grammatical corrections. Gov. Steve Beshear had not signed the regulations, and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told The State Journal he understood Beshear wanted the hemp commission to give its approval before signing them into effect.

Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for Beshear, told The State Journal that the Governor’s Office is working with the Department of Agriculture on the proposed regulations.

“Assuming the final language complies with state law and the federal court’s prospective ruling, the governor plans to sign the statement of emergency,” Sebastian said.

Craig Lee, a former hemp commission member, voiced concerns during the meeting that the DEA would simply destroy the crop as has happened in California, North Dakota and elsewhere in recent years.

Morgan, however, said the federal farm bill and state legislation passed in the 2013 session puts Kentucky on solid legal ground with the university-affiliated pilot programs.

Kentucky is on the brink of history as KDA explores hemp’s potential in the commonwealth, Comer said.

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “It’s not going to happen in the next week or so, but we’ve been meeting with companies that want to make an investment in Kentucky, that want to hire people, that want to sign contracts with family farms.

“… I think history will show we stood for something that was worth fighting for.”

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