Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, and his office filed a civil lawsuit against a Mason County hemp farmer and related parties earlier this month for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. Stuart filed suit against Matthew Mallory of CAMO Hemp WV, and Gary Kale of Grassy Run Farms. Grassy Run Farms owns the land.
The lawsuit charges the defendants with manufacturing, cultivation, possession, and intent to distribute marijuana and not hemp, the Charleston Gazette reported. 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.
However, there is no such requirement under West Virginia state law. The suit was filed despite the fact that West Virginia state law has no such requirement.
In a written statement, Norman Bailey, chief of staff to the state agriculture commissioner, said West Virginia’s laws and regulations are silent as to the source of seeds for participation in the program, although Kentucky (via departmental rules) and North Carolina (via advisory opinion from the state attorney general) have both concluded buying seeds over state lines is not a violation of federal law.
He said the department is monitoring the situation and has not yet decided whether it will intervene in the case. However, he said if the department were to intervene, it would be on behalf of the farmers to protect the state’s agricultural interests and to clarify state law.
“Matthew Mallory is in material compliance with state laws according to our records,” Bailey said. “We have requested he update any inaccuracies within his application, given the information recently provided to [the department] by [Stuart’s office].”
West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt issued the following statement “The WVDA believes this case could have drastic, adverse effects on West Virginia’s and other states’ industrial hemp programs. This could lead to a loss of a potential cash crop for the Mountain State. As we look to agriculture’s future, we know West Virginia will have to focus on a variety of specialty crops to grow our agricultural economy. Industrial hemp has the potential to be one of those crops with the necessary infrastructure.”
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.
Filings in the case can be found below.