U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart has filed a civil suit against a hemp farmer in Mason County, West Virginia over alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.
The suit, filed by Stuart to represent the federal government, claims the defendants purchased hemp seeds in Kentucky and brought them over state lines into West Virginia. Stuart said the hemp pilot program in West Virginia requires that all seeds be bought from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. The suit also claims that required signage and security systems were not installed on the farm.
Various officials in the West Virginia state government, however, contradict Stuart’s claim that seeds must be acquired from the state government, including the Chief of Staff for the state’s Agriculture Commissioner.
The defendants, Matthew Mallory of CAMO Hemp WV and Gary Kale of Grassy Run Farms, are being charged with drug trafficking — not for hemp, but rather marijuana. This is due to overlapping and confusing laws. The federal 2014 Farm Bill provides a structure and laws to help support the development of state-legal pilot hemp industries; each state, however, has separate rules and precedents that often contradict.
One thing is clear in the 2014 Farm Bill, however: Stuart is forbidden from spending federal money “to interfere with or otherwise frustrate the intrastate or interstate transportation of industrial hemp grown or cultivated as part of a Farm Bill-authorized agriculture pilot program.”
Stuart claims the suit isn’t about a stance on industrial hemp, but rather lax regulators. Stuart said, “Based on the action we filed, I think it’s plain that this dispute doesn’t center on a public policy debate about industrial hemp, but on the dangers of lax regulation [and] oversight by a state agency which is trusted by the people of West Virginia to enforce its regulatory scheme.”
West Virginia’s Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt issued a written statement siding with the farmers:
“The WVDA believes this case could have drastic, adverse effects on West Virginia’s and other states’ industrial hemp programs. This could lead to a loss of a potential cash crop for the Mountain State. As we look to agriculture’s future, we know West Virginia will have to focus on a variety of specialty crops to grow our agricultural economy. Industrial hemp has the potential to be one of those crops with the necessary infrastructure. … We are confused on why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is working so diligently to thwart a growing agricultural industry in the state. Especially, one that Congress has clearly shown its support for, and when there are so many other serious issues affecting West Virginia.” — Kent Leonhardt, via the Charles Gazette-Mail
The 2018 Farm Bill has passed both houses of Congress and is being reconciled from two separate bills into a single version. The Senate version, backed by Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) includes clear language that would fully legalize industrial hemp, which is expected to be included in the final version. The previous Farm Bill expires September 30th and lawmakers aim to pass the new bill by then, which may make this lawsuit ultimately pointless.