Farm Bill or Not, Truck Drivers Carrying Hemp Are Still Getting Arrested
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In late January, Idaho State Police stopped an Oregonian truck driver on his way to Colorado. The driver, Mr Denis Palamarchuck, was confronted at a weigh station by a state-trooper for a routine inspection. But when the officer opened up the truck’s container, they found 31 industrial shipping bags of hemp, weighing 6,700 pounds.
Things soon escalated. Palamarchuck was arrested for trafficking marijuana and spent four days in an Idahoan jail. If found guilty, he will serve at least five years in prison and pay a minimum $15,000 fine.
But, according to federal law, Mr Palamarchuck is innocent. Since the Farm Bill was passed in December 2018, hemp has been legal nationwide.
Instead of a federal crime, Mr Palamarchuck’s case is emblematic of the rocky, and now possibly life-damaging, transition phase the US state systems are going through to regulate hemp transportation.
A closer look
Of course, Palamarchuck’s 6,700 pounds of hemp wasn’t for personal use. It was being transported on behalf of Big Sky Scientific, a Colorado-based company that buys "hemp that's rich in CBD" from farmers, which it processes to make CBD powder and then sells to product manufacturers.
The company claims that it bought about 13,000 pounds of industrial hemp from Boones Ferry Berry Farms in Hubbard, Oregon, which is licensed with the Oregon Department of Agriculture as a registered industrial hemp grower.
Big Sky Scientific officials then tested 19 different samples from its new hemp crops on January 17th and claimed its THC levels were at 0.043 percent - far lower than the federal legal limit of 0.3 percent.
But that didn’t matter to the Idaho police department. Because they weren’t checking for THC levels, just for cannabis.
The state trooper’s narcotic identification kit – which only tests for the presence of THC, not the quantity – gave a positive result for the truck’s cargo THC. Coupled with a drug-sniffing canine’s “positive alert on the cargo," the troopers had enough evidence to arrest Mr Palamarchuck.
And judged on their own state law, the Idaho police were right to do so.
By Idaho state law, marijuana is defined as "all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis, regardless of species," and that any evidence of THC "shall create a presumption that such material is 'marijuana' as defined and prohibited herein."
Big Sky Scientific has since filed a lawsuit against Idaho State Police and demand its hemp back, which is deteriorating in police holdings and rapidly becoming less valuable.
“It’s a lawful crop, akin to oranges or potatoes or cotton,” Elijah Watkins, Big Sky Scientific’s lawyer, told Hemp Industry Daily.
“We have a state completely stopping interstate commerce of a federally legal commodity.”
But a judge has since denied the request and claimed that Congress intended for the federal government and states to create interstate hemp regulations, but they have failed to do so.
So is the Farm Bill working?
When President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, hemp farmers and distributors were effectively told that the days of dreading interstate transport were over. Hemp was finally legal nationwide.
But the Idaho seizure has shown that claim to be premature. In reality, state-to-state cannabis laws are just as complicated as they’ve ever been.
In this case, Oregon, where the hemp was grown and shipped from, doesn’t yet have federally approved regulation that can monitor the production of hemp, as required by the 2018 bill. This lack of infrastructure leaves Big Sky Scientific in a legal grey area, one where it can’t rely on Oregon state authorities to aid in its case.
And regarding Idaho’s official view on hemp transportation, one state officer told CNN that “Idaho State Police troopers will continue to aggressively enforce Idaho laws,” which still prohibit any substance containing THC.
For the many states that have legalized cannabis in some form or another, the Farm Bill is acting just like it should. But for the places that still treat the plant in a criminal capacity, the 2018 legislature has only emphasized the growing rift between cannabis-legal and -illegal states.
Nine states - Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, South Dakota, Iowa, Texas, and Connecticut - still prohibit hemp production under any circumstances. And four states - Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas - still prohibit hemp-derived CBD.
For now, transporting hemp across these state lines may still be as dangerous as it’s ever been.
Because Mr Palamarchuck isn’t alone in his predicament. In January, four men were charged by Oklahoma police for carrying some 18,000 pounds of Kentucky-grown cannabis on their way to Louisville, Colorado. Once again, the drivers said they were carrying legal hemp.
But if successful in its lawsuit, Big Sky Scientific could be the force for change these states need to catch up with the rest of the country.
Until then, the fates of interstate hemp transportation and its drivers like Mr Palamarchuck hang in the balance.