Ky. hemp industry on the line in federal court showdown - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Ky. hemp industry on the line in federal court showdown

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A hemp planting scheduled for Friday in central Kentucky is postponed because of the standoff between the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the DEA.

At issue is hemp seeds imported for use in a pilot program.

The showdown will happen at the federal courthouse in Louisville: Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer vs. the DEA.

"This is government at its worst. This is a classic example of government overreach," said Comer.

Comer thought he reached a deal with the DEA on Tuesday afternoon to release 250 pounds of imported hemp seed seized by the agency and held at the U.S. Customs office in Louisville.

"We were very optimistic that we would get our seeds within a matter of days. We agreed to fill out just one import permit, and we would have the seeds," said Comer.

But hours later, Comer received a letter from the DEA which he says contains new conditions that would have delayed obtaining the seeds by six months.

"So we said enough's enough, and we're going to take them to court," said Comer.

The suit seeks an injunction to force the DEA to release the seeds.

Comer maintains that the new Farm Bill allows Kentucky to begin hemp pilot projects.

But in the letter to Comer, the DEA says while Kentucky may grow or cultivate seeds, the importation is still subject to what's called the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act.

"The government agencies are supposed to abide by the laws that Congress passes, and here's a perfect example with industrial hemp, where they're not doing that," said Comer.

In a statement, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, who placed the hemp language in the farm bill, called on the DEA to release the hemp seeds immediately.

"Senator McConnell's appalled, and he's encouraging us to take them to court," said Comer.

A spokesperson for the Justice Dept. would not comment on the suit, but told WDRB by phone that the DEA is willing to work with Kentucky to expedite the release of the seeds.

But Comer says time is of the essence.

"If they're not in the ground by the first week of June, we can forget about it, and DEA knows that."

The Agriculture Department says hemp seeds shipped in from California were to go into the ground in Mt. Vernon on Friday. But that planting will now only be ceremonial. Real seeds will not be used so as not to jeopardize this case.

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