He was licensed to grow hemp in Kentucky. Police say they found marijuana instead.

Former Jackson County Sheriff Denny Peyman.
Former Jackson County Sheriff Denny Peyman. Photo provided

Kentucky officials are reviewing a case that could result in a former sheriff being kicked out of the state’s pilot program to grow industrial hemp after he was charged with cultivating marijuana.

Former Jackson County Sheriff Denny Peyman is thought to be the first participant in the hemp program arrested for allegedly growing marijuana, hemp’s psychoactive cousin.

Peyman has been approved to grow hemp since 2015, the year after he lost reelection and left office, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

He was approved to grow up to 20 acres of hemp this year, said department spokesman Sean Southard.

Peyman said in his license application that he planned to research ways to increase what farmers could expect to earn from growing the crop.

On Wednesday, state police detective Darren Allen arrested Peyman at his farm south of McKee on a felony charge of growing marijuana.

Police obtained a warrant to search Peyman’s farm after previously finding 61 marijuana plants there, Allen said in a citation.

Police found harvested marijuana plants drying in Peyman’s barn, the citation said.

Peyman also was charged with drug trafficking because he allegedly had a large amount of anabolic steroids in his house.

He was released on bond Thursday afternoon after about 22 hours in custody, according to the Jackson County Detention Center.

Peyman pleaded not guilty at his initial court appearance and is due back in court later this month.

Southard said Friday that Agriculture Department officials “will be making further inquiries” of Peyman to see if he has broken the rules of the hemp program.

Pleading guilty to a felony charge or to a drug-related misdemeanor can cost a person his or her license to take part in the industrial hemp research program, according to the Agriculture Department.

Other grounds for revocation include refusing to comply with orders from the department or from police, Southard said.

“We are gathering the information we will need to determine whether Mr. Peyman’s license will be revoked,” Southard said.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles “is determined to not allow Kentucky’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program to become a smokescreen for marijuana production,” Southard said.

The first experimental hemp plots took root in Kentucky in 2014 after state and federal lawmakers, officials and activists pushed for the return of the plant in hopes of developing a new cash crop for farmers.

Hemp has low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that creates a high. Hemp can be processed to be used in clothing, food, fuel and other products.

There are 196 licensed hemp growers, 49 processors and eight universities conducting projects as part of the state’s industrial hemp research program, according to Quarles’ department.

Peyman is listed as an organizer of a corporation called Hemp Farm Direct LLC that registered with the state in June.

The address for the company is the same as the one given for Peyman in his arrest citation. Two other men were listed as organizers with Peyman.

The company has posted a number of updates on Facebook in recent months about its progress, including a June post celebrating its approval as a hemp processor.

“From seed to harvest, production to sale, we can now begin producing organic whole hemp plant products for our future customers,” the company said in the post.

Efforts to reach Peyman and another organizer of Hemp Farm Direct were not successful.

Peyman had a rocky term as sheriff. He feuded with the county fiscal court over financing for his office and faced state audits that found financial shortfalls and accounting problems.

Peyman arrested then-Judge-Executive William O. Smith during a public meeting in January 2014, accusing him of offenses that included tampering with public records, forgery and falsifying business records. Smith said the arrest was politically motivated.

A prosecutor dropped the charges and Smith sued Peyman, winning a settlement of $62,500.