The lawsuit charges the farmers with manufacturing, cultivation, possession, and intent to distribute marijuana and not hemp, the newspaper said. Hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis sativa plant, but by state law hemp must be comprised of less than 1 percent THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
The complaint says the farmers purchased their hemp seeds in Kentucky and brought them over the West Virginia state line. A state pilot program only allows hemp producers to obtain seeds internationally, via the state Department of Agriculture, the lawsuit said.
The complaint also said the defendants indicated they would install security measures around the farm. However, that allegedly hasn’t happened.
If Stuart prevails in the lawsuit, the farmers’ plants, property, equipment and seeds could all be seized and forfeited to the government. His complaint says the federal government could receive either $250,000 in civil penalties or twice the sum of the defendants’ gross receipts.
The farmers’ attorneys argue the Agricultural Act of 2014 protects their right to grow hemp under state laws. Also, the Farm Bill and related provisions of a federal appropriations bill together state that no congressional appropriated funds can prevent the transportation, processing or sale of hemp under a state program authorized under the federal legislation.
Norman Bailey, chief of staff to the state agriculture commissioner, said in a written statement that West Virginia’s laws and regulations are silent as to the source of seeds for participation in the program.
Bailey said Kentucky and North Carolina have both concluded that buying seeds over state lines isn’t a violation of federal law. The department is monitoring the situation and has not yet decided whether it will intervene in the case, he said.
Stuart said the lawsuit isn’t a statement of a position for or against hemp, but really is about an issue of lax regulatory oversight from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
“Based on the action we filed, I think it’s plain that this dispute doesn’t center on a public policy debate about industrial hemp, but on the dangers of lax regulation (and) oversight by a state agency which is trusted by the people of West Virginia to enforce its regulatory scheme,” he said.
J. Morgan Leach is the CEO of the West Virginia Farmers Cooperative, which includes the defendants in the lawsuit.
“We are confused on why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is working so diligently to thwart a growing agricultural industry in the state,” he said. “Especially, one that Congress has clearly shown its support for, and when there are so many other serious issues affecting West Virginia.”