After being misled by the DEA about whether it would release imported heed seed destined for the state's hemp research projects, the state of Kentucky is now suing the federal anti-drug agency, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told The Huffington Post Wednesday.
"I hated to do that, but we've been misled and it's obviously a stall tactic," Comer told HuffPost. "We have farmers who wanna grow it. We have processors who wanna process it. We have researchers who wanna research it. We bought and paid for the seeds," Comer said. "Here in Kentucky there's a desperate need to find an alternative to tobacco."
And the clock is ticking, with Mother Nature paying no attention to bureaucratic power plays. Hemp crops need to be in the ground this month for this year's season.
Research on hemp is now legal for state agriculture departments and universities in states that have passed laws allowing for it. A groundbreaking amendment allowing for the research was approved as part of the omnibus farm bill signed into law earlier this year. And Kentucky ordered 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed to do research this year.
But the DEA now says the state ag department must apply for a permit to import the seeds because they are a Schedule I controlled substance. That's a change of tune from the anti-drug agency.
"We were told yesterday in multiple phone calls that we wouldn't have to do this Schedule I import permit," senior Kentucky ag official Holly Harris VonLuehrte told HuffPost. She noted that agreeing to the DEA demand would be an implicit acceptance of the DEA's position that hemp is in fact a Schedule I drug.
"Industrial hemp is not a Schedule I controlled substance. We're not going to execute a document that violates federal and state law," she said.
The seeds are currently stuck in a US Customs warehouse in Louisville.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the sponsors of the hemp amendment to the farm bill, ridiculed the DEA's position.
"I think I have a copy of the Congressional Record lying around my office that shows that Congress just debated this issue and voted overwhelmingly to allow research institutions to grow and study industrial hemp," Blumenauer told HuffPost. "I'd send it over to the DEA, but I'm worried they would classify it as rolling papers and seize it. With every move, the DEA is showing that they are incredibly out of touch with mainstream America. We need serious self-evaluation and shakeup over there if they ever want to be taken seriously."
But the DEA may have managed to knock Kentucky's hemp research schedule back by a year.