A federal judge has decided not to order the release of more than 6,700 pounds of what one company claims is hemp — and what the Idaho State Police claims is marijuana — seized during a Boise traffic stop last month, noting the state where the substance was grown had not yet worked out a plan for hemp production with the federal government.
The order is the latest development in the wake of a Jan. 24 incident that spawned both a criminal drug trafficking case and a civil lawsuit against the Idaho State Police. On that date, troopers stopped a semitrailer in Ada County, traveling from Oregon to Colorado. Inside the trailer was more than 6,700 pounds of what the driver — Denis Palamarchuk, 36, of Portland — told troopers was hemp. Police believed it was marijuana, however, and arrested Palamarchuk on suspicion of a drug trafficking charge.
Both hemp and marijuana contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient which helps make marijuana intoxicating. Industrial hemp, by law, however, can contain no more than .3 percent THC, and it has tens of thousands of commercial uses.
If convicted, Palamarchuk faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison under Idaho law.
As Palamrchuk’s criminal case got underway, the company that had contracted him to ship the alleged hemp — Big Sky Scientific — sued the Idaho State Police and Ada County Prosecuting Attorney Jan Bennetts, claiming loss of the cargo, which it said was worth a great deal of money, would cripple the company. Elijah Watkins, the attorney representing Big Sky Scientific, filed a motion urging the U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Bush to order police to release the confiscated product. Watkins’ argument hinges on the 2018 Farm Act, signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump in December, which made the growth, sale and transportation of industrial hemp legal at the federal level.
Despite that, Idaho remained one of three states in which hemp is still illegal, and, as Bush noted in his Tuesday order denying the release of the product, the Idaho State Police and the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office believe “the 2018 Farm Bill did not (and still does not) prohibit ISP from seizing industrial hemp,” including the product seized in the January traffic stop.
Bush also noted the government of Oregon — where the substance was grown — and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had yet to work out a plan for the guidelines required to grow industrial hemp, as states are required to do.
“There simply is no such plan in place and therefore the cargo, whether described as hemp or marijuana, could not have been produced in accordance with (the law) and therefore could not be subject to the protection of interstate commerce as provided by the 2018 Farm Bill,” Bush wrote.
He noted, however, that once a plan is in place, the movement of industrial hemp across Idaho would be legal — even if Idaho never legalized the substance itself.
“At some future date, hemp (produced in accordance with the law) will undoubtedly be transported in interstate commerce across states like Idaho that have not legalized industrial hemp,” Bush wrote.
Idaho may yet legalize hemp, however. Earlier this month, Idaho lawmakers introduced a bill that would legalize the substance’s production and transportation in Idaho. While and Idaho House committee heard hours of testimony on the matter Monday, they have yet to vote on whether to send it to the House floor.