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Erwin A. "Bud" Sholts, Chairman

 

 

Kentucky & Colorado Race to Plant Industrial Hemp

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NAIHC.org, May 14, 2014 – The Kentucky Department of Agriculture filed suit May 14 to force the federal government to release industrial hemp seeds for planting in Kentucky. Kentucky charges that the seeds have been seized “Despite the enactment of federal and state legislation that exempts the growing and cultivation of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. . .” (Read the 63 page suit here.)

Frustrated by what he considers the federal government's deliberate delaying tactics, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Wednesday afternoon May 14 that I just filed suit in federal court to force DEA, Customs, Justice & Eric Holder to follow the law.” The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky to challenge the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder. 

So the race is on to grow industrial hemp in the United States, with Kentucky and Colorado currently vying for the lead.

Colorado grower Michael Bowman, an advisor to the North American Industrial Hemp Council, reports that over 100 Colorado farmers have obtained state permits to grow industrial hemp this year, with more than 1,000 acres expected to be planted.

Meanwhile in Kentucky, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has run into a federal roadblock which has delayed planting. First, last week a 250-pound shipment of industrial hemp seeds ordered from Italy by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture was seized by U.S. customs. Then when Comer threatened a law suit, the federal Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) appeared to relent this week, promising to release the seeds on Tuesday, May 13.

But late that day, DEA changed its mind in a letter faxed to Comer’s office. The DEA letter promises expedited action to release the impounded seed – but only if the Kentucky Agriculture Department agrees “to register as an importer of controlled substances.” The DEA letter states that “DEA is prepared to register KDA as an importer of controlled substances” and warns that “the importation of cannabis seeds continues to be subject to the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (CSIEA).”

(Read the DEA’s May 13 letter setting new conditions for releasing Kentucky's industrial hemp seed.) 

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s response to DEA is that under the new rules for industrial hemp established by the 2014 Farm Bill which became law in February, industrial hemp is not a “controlled substance” and should no longer be confused with its distant cousin marijuana.

If Kentucky is successful in having DEA allow delivery of the seized 250 pounds of seed, Kentucky’s plan is to move full steam ahead on planting with five research projects:

  • Eastern KY-Heritage Seed Production, Homegrown by Heroes & Kentucky State University

  • Western KY- Industrial Hemp Structural Building Components, Murray State University

  • Louisville-Urban Brownfield Bioremediation, University of Louisville

  • Central KY- Agronomic Research and Renewable Energy, University of Kentucky & Eastern Kentucky University

  • Eastern KY- Cultivating Cannabinoids for Medical Research Purposes, University of Kentucky

The Kentucky Agriculture Department invites Kentucky farmers to submit an application form available here. Each approved farmer would become an affiliate of one of the university-administered pilot programs. 

But Kentucky faces another federal hurdle, as revealed by the DEA’s May 13 letter. According to the letter, DEA’s interpretation of current laws and regulations is that since “only institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture [may be] used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp,” therefore “it is the position of DEA that Section 7606 does not provide any authorization to private growers of industrial hemp.” Insisting that “private growers remain subject to the registration requirement and all other applicable provisions of the Controlled Substances Act,” the DEA letter concludes that “DEA interprets Section 7606 to mean that a State department of agriculture or institution of higher education may not assign to others the authority to grow and cultivate industrial hemp.”

Since Colorado farmers have imported industrial hemp seed successfully, Colorado hasn’t experienced the same wrangling with DEA over seed import restrictions. But the position DEA has taken stating that “only institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture [may be] used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp” could result in further challenges to planting industrial hemp in Colorado.

Kentucky’s five planned projects are designed to research a variety of issues key to successful commercialization of industrial hemp:

  • “The first pilot project, affiliated with Kentucky State University and our Homegrown by Heroes military veteran farmer program, will study the cultivation of Kentucky Heirloom hemp seed on a research plot in Eastern Kentucky.”

  • “The second project, located in Western Kentucky and affiliated with Murray State University, will cultivate European seed for the purposes of studying hemp fiber.”

  • “The third pilot project, located on an urban brownfield and affiliated with the University of Louisville, will study bio-remediation, or the detoxifying and environmental effects of industrial hemp.”

  • “The fourth pilot project, located in central Kentucky, will address many of the basic agricultural issues involved in the production of industrial hemp such as the machinery needed for proper planting, harvesting and transportation, the yield per acre and overall cost of production. This project is linked with the University of Kentucky for measuring agriculture production and Eastern Kentucky University, which will conduct a renewable energy research project with this crop in its EKU Craft Center.”

  • “The final pilot project, also affiliated with the University of Kentucky and located in Eastern Kentucky, will focus on cultivating cannabinoids for medical research purposes.”

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture states that “The goal of these pilot programs is to move this new industry forward while working to achieve independence for farmers to pursue production of industrial hemp in a free and open market.”

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