Ky. ag officials upbeat about gaining hemp seeds

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm •  Published: May 21, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Attorneys for the Kentucky Agriculture Department and federal government resumed discussions with a judge on Wednesday to try to resolve a standoff over hemp seeds from Italy that customs officials have blocked from reaching fields for spring planting.

Afterward, a top aide to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer sounded upbeat about getting the seeds in Kentucky soil in coming days.

"It's a much less adversarial process now," Comer chief of staff Holly Harris VonLuehrte said. "I'm hopeful that we'll have this fully resolved."

Kentucky's pilot hemp projects for research were put on hold after the 250-pound seed shipment was stopped by U.S. customs officials in Louisville earlier this month. The state's Agriculture Department then sued the federal government in hopes of freeing the seeds. Defendants include the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Eight test projects are planned in Kentucky as part of a small-scale comeback for the long-banned crop that once flourished in the state. Six universities in the state plan to help with the research.

Growing hemp without a federal permit was banned in 1970 due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Hemp's comeback was spurred by the new federal farm bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow hemp growing.

During the standoff, the state's ag department cleared one hurdle by getting registered with DEA to import hemp seeds.

Federal officials also inspected the department's facilities where the seeds would be stored for a short time before they're sent to fields. The seeds would be safeguarded behind multiple locked doors and in locked containers, VonLuehrte said.

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