The long-delayed hemp seed arrived at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in Frankfort about noon Friday, after being released by U.S. Customs in Louisville.
The seeds were imported from Italy for as many as eight pilot projects that the Agriculture Department will conduct with universities across the state. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration had seized the seeds and demanded that the state obtain a controlled substance permit to import and plant them.
The DEA said that even though the federal Farm Bill that Congress passed earlier this year allows growing hemp for research, the plant, Cannabis sativa, is the same as marijuana even though it has negligible amounts of high-inducing THC.
State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer sued the DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Justice Department, and Attorney General Eric Holder in federal court in Louisville. U.S. District Judge John Heyburn negotiated a deal for the release of the seeds.
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On Friday, seeds were weighed and inspected at the Agriculture Department offices, then they were sorted by cultivar. They will be matched to research projects and sent to the University of Kentucky and other schools for planting before June 1 so the state can grow the first legal U.S. hemp crop in decades.
Other seeds, sent from a California company, are already in the ground: Murray State University in Western Kentucky quietly planted about 50 pounds of hemp seed last week, said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, Comer's chief of staff.
The DEA was informed but unconcerned, she said.
The Agriculture Department also planned a conference call Friday with Heyburn and DEA attorneys to confirm that the agency has no further objection to the Agriculture Department's plans to work with private farmers to grow hemp for some of the pilot projects.
A farmer in Rockcastle County was scheduled to plant hemp last week, but the planting was delayed pending the outcome of the case.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, issued a statement on the DEA's release of the seeds:
"I am glad the needless delay appears to be over and the program we have worked on for more than a year is about to become a reality. I have been working with Attorney General Holder on Kentucky's program for months, and I am pleased that his department has helped us move the program forward as Congress intended."
U.S. Mitch McConnell, who had pressed the DEA to release the seeds, said: "I want to congratulate Commissioner Comer for his delivery today, and applaud Senator Paul for his hard work on helping make this happen. Now that the seeds have been freed, it's time to get them in the ground and begin our lawful pilot programs to explore the potential for job creation in our commonwealth."