State lawmakers from California to Maine will not legally be allowed to prohibit the transport of hemp and the CBD derived from it once the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes it’s regulations on hemp production later this year. That’s according to an advisory opinion from a department attorney, who added states already should not ban or impede the transport of hemp grown legally per a 2014 law. The opinion also specifically took issue with the seizure of 6,700 pounds of hemp seized in Idaho in January.
Growing hemp, which is the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana that has a host of industrial uses (everything fro textiles to twine), is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill Congress passed late last year. Dozens of states are actively working to create a framework to expressly allow for the cultivation and sale of hemp, as many outlawed in state statute to match federal law. Idaho is one of a handful of states where driving through with a sizable load of hemp can result in serious time in prison.
Last year – weeks after the 2018 Farm Bill was passed – three truck drivers hauling hemp through Idaho were stopped and arrested by police. Two pleaded guilty to low-level felony charges and will be sentenced in a few days. Another truck driver was arrested earlier this year and faces a five-year minimum mandatory sentence. That case is pending, though Los Angeles cannabis lawyers see the federal agency’s opinion as one more thing likely to urge prosecutors toward the step of dropping these charges (likely moreso than the 13,000 online signatures in support of the trucker).
The company that employed the first two truckers is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, seeking reversal of that verdict AND return of its hemp product – and/or compensation for it – arguing the haul was in fact legally produced in Oregon for shipment to Colorado when it was seized by Colorado authorities.
The Idaho House passed a bill that legalized hemp officially after those three arrests – by a measure of 63-7. However, both law enforcement and prosecutors put heavy pressure on state Senators to oppose it, resulting in an amended Senate version that would have kept hemp illegal – yet allowed its transport with a variation of restrictions. Because the state House rejected the amended proposal, the law remains as-is (meaning hemp is still illegal under state law – despite federal law).
It is this conflict in statute that has been causing headaches – because it is state – not federal authorities that are arresting and prosecuting these individuals. States contend that because of a technicality in the 2018 Farm Bill, they are still free to prosecute individuals in the interim between the federal law’s December 2018 passing and the time state lawmakers pass their own hemp laws.
Federal Agriculture Department officials disagree, pointing to the 2014 Farm Bill which already said that neither states nor Indiana tribes were allowed to ban interstate transport of the plant (which was allowed under that provision for research purposes). Does it matter that the hemp being transported was not being used for that purpose? The DOA says no, but state prosecutors say otherwise.
Still, with federal regulators arguing in favor of the truck drivers and their employers, we hope prosecutors in Idaho will use commonsense, drop the charges against the drivers and return the valuable product to the companies.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
USDA says states can’t ban hemp trucks, June 23, 2019, By Nathan Brown, Post Register