Kentucky gets permit to import hemp seed, which is expected to be released Friday morning

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 22, 2014 

After a week of legal drama, the hemp seed will be freed.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture was informed around 5 p.m. Thursday that the Drug Enforcement Administration has granted the state's permit to import hemp seed, according to Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

"It's historic," Comer said Thursday night from Louisville. "We've paved the way for the rest of the nation to be able to do this, and I think it's exciting. Judging by interest exhibited by so many states wanting to get into this, that shows it's economically viable. ... We're in the lead here in Kentucky, and I hope it will be very profitable."

The DEA issued to the agriculture department a permit authorizing the importation of 130 kilograms of hemp seeds, according a statement Thursday.

VonLuehrte said the KDA was told an electronic copy of the permit was being sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Louisville, where 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed have been held up in a UPS warehouse for weeks.

Comer said his office hopes to get the seed first thing Friday morning.

"We'll get it to the universities, hopefully, tomorrow afternoon," Comer said. "It's a holiday weekend, but we're going to get right on it."

The KDA bought the seed, using donated funds, for pilot projects to grow the first legal hemp crop in the U.S. in decades.

Last week, Comer sued the DEA, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder after the seeds were seized.

The KDA said the seeds have to be in the ground by June 1.

In two preliminary hearings with U.S. District Judge John Heyburn, state and federal officials worked out a compromise to allow the seeds to be legally imported and planted.

The KDA plans several pilot projects with universities around the state. The shipment contains 13 cultivars of hemp, in 10-kilogram bags, which will be matched with the research focus of the universities, VonLuehrte said.

The KDA also has some hemp seed donated from a company in California; that seed was to have been planted last Friday in Rockcastle County, but the planting was delayed pending the resolution of the case.

The DEA apparently has agreed to allow farmers to grow hemp as an extension of the KDA, which means the state can expand hemp production next year.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, met with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart in Washington to press the agency to move forward quickly on Kentucky's hemp paperwork.

McConnell this year inserted language into the federal Farm Bill that would allow state departments of agriculture and institutions of higher learning to grow hemp for research purposes.

"I am pleased the DEA has approved Kentucky's permit and the seeds are expected to be in the hands of Commissioner Comer soon," McConnell said in a statement late Thursday. "As I stressed yesterday in my meeting with the DEA administrator, it was the intent of my provision in the Farm Bill to allow states' departments of agriculture and universities to explore the commercial use of industrial hemp as a means for job creation and economic development. I'm hoping this is the final hurdle and Kentucky will soon be able to plant the seeds in the ground and begin our lawful pilot programs in exploring the potential for job creation in our Commonwealth."

Comer credited McConnell, along with his staff and supporters from around the state, with helping to "free the seeds," the Twitter hashtag many supporters used.

"I feel pretty good," Comer said. "We've been a beneficiary of a lot of supportive people in this issue."

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.

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