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Prosecutor continues lawsuit against West Virginia hemp farm

December 23, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A prosecutor is pushing ahead with a lawsuit against a West Virginia hemp farm despite federal action that legalizes the crop.

Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Friday that he has no immediate plans to drop his civil suit against a Mason County hemp farm and its associates.

The suit seeks seizure of the farmers’ plants and equipment, plus financial penalties.

“Nothing happens with that lawsuit,” Stuart said. “It continues down the path. We will continue to evaluate, but it continues through a normal process.”

The new federal farm bill signed by President Donald Trump includes a provision that removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

A state law codified a pilot program allowing for cultivation, sale and purchase of hemp for industrial purposes under oversight of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. Stuart’s lawsuit alleges that because the farm didn’t comply with seed sourcing, fencing and signage requirements, the farmers should be treated as if they were growing marijuana, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis sativa plant. Under West Virginia law, hemp must be comprised of less than 1 percent THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.

Documentation from the WVDA states it will test harvested hemp to ensure it is comprised of less than 0.3 percent THC, even with the new federal law. Now, those seeking to grow hemp must obtain a license to do so from their state departments of agriculture, which fall under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s oversight

Hemp is used to make textiles, foods, fabrics, cosmetics, agriculture products and more.

While Stuart expressed a number of concerns regarding the state’s hemp regulatory practices, state Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said the criticism is unfounded. He said the department regularly tests hemp grows, and noted that Stuart only filed a civil lawsuit, not criminal charges.

“I don’t believe the lawsuit was a justifiable lawsuit to begin with. He never charged the farmer with doing anything illegal. He just wanted to seize assets,” Leonhardt said. “I’m hoping the judge just throws it out, but I can’t say.”

Aaron Glasscock, who works with Grassy Run Farms, one of the defendants, declined to comment Friday.

Carte Goodwin, an attorney for the farmers, said he was disappointed that Stuart would continue with the litigation after the farm bill’s passage, especially since his clients were already on firm legal ground.

When asked about the particular alleged compliance violations Stuart mentioned, Goodwin said it’s excessive to use them to escalate things to the level of a criminal offense.

“I think the question is whether those items would give rise to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, and I think the answer to that is clearly no,” he said. “At the end of the day, he was growing and cultivating a lawful product in accordance with the law.”

As for Stuart’s concerns with Leonhardt’s regulatory enforcement, Goodwin said the farm, and thus his client, was largely compliant.

“He has been in material compliance with the state program,” he said. “If the U.S. Attorney has concerns about how the Department of Agriculture is enforcing and administering its program, maybe he needs to get himself elected (Agriculture) Commissioner.”

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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