An Oregon truck driver found himself arrested, held in jail for four days, and charged in Idaho with hauling a material that federal law says is perfectly legal to transport across state lines.
Idaho State Police on January 24 arrested Denis Palamarchuck, a driver for VIP Transporter in Portland, OR, after he stopped at a weigh station on his way to Colorado. Officers checked the cargo and pronounced that it contained THC, the substance in marijuana that produces euphoria and, according to Idaho law, is illegal. The driver was charged with felony trafficking of marijuana in what state police said was the largest such bust in the agency's history.
The owner of the trucking firm says that the cargo was not marijuana but hemp — whose transportation is legal under the recently-passed federal Farm Bill of 2018 — and contained trace amounts of THC, less than the 0.3% limit which would not classify it as marijuana according to the new law. The state, however, says that the cargo contained almost 7,000 pounds of what it considers marijuana even if though it is below the federal legal limit for THC.
(The exact wording of the federal law: No State or Indian Tribe shall prohibit the transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products produced in accordance with subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (as added by section 10113) [the provisions on industrial hemp] through the State or the territory of the Indian Tribe, as applicable.)
The list of lawsuits, complaints, charges and legal responses is longer than a CVS register receipt. The driver is out on $100,000 bail, the trucking company is suing Idaho officials to continue hauling the load, which it claims could rot from mold if held too long; Big Sky Scientific, the company that bought the hemp to produce CBD, a popular medical remedy, is also suing for possession of the product that they legally bought. The Idaho legislature is trying to amend their laws to make sure this type of incident doesn't happen again. Big Sky officials say that the hemp was tested before loading and it contained much less than 0.3% THC. (See chart, Courtesy of Big Sky Scientific.)
The main issue is that Congress passed the Farm Bill, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture that oversees its implementation and regulation has not kept pace, possibly because of the government shutdown earlier this year. "The Farm Bill only passed in late December, then we had a government shutdown for more than a month. The Farm Bill getting dissected and disseminated to the various agencies that are affected by it hasn’t necessarily happened yet," said Erica McBride Stark, executive director of the National Hemp Association, a trade association that provides resources for farmers and others that want to get into the hemp business. She says that in 2018 about 80,000 acres of hemp were grown and that 2019 will see significant growth. The states growing the most hemp are Kentucky, Montana, Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
Hemp is used mainly to produce CBD but is also found in animal bedding, building materials, car parts, injection molded products and textiles. "We did just speak to the USDA, and transportation was a topic that we brought up to make sure that it was on their radar, that they'll incorporate it in their regulations to protect truck drivers, farmers and processors because of this very issue [what happened in Idaho]."
Despite common misconceptions, end products from the stalk or seed of the marijuana plant have always been legal, Stark says. "The thing that has a legal gray area was, and continues to be: CBD." She adds that drug-sniffing dogs will detect hemp as marijuana (which is what happened to Palamarchuck's load) and hemp will also trigger positive on the standard NIK test, a field test that law enforcement uses to detect marijuana.
Does Stark have any advice for drivers who haul hemp? "They need to understand that there is this risk, and maybe try to plan their routes to avoid non-friendly states if possible… Maybe it would be a good idea to contact the state police before the trip and tell them you’re coming through."
As for Palamarchuck's arrest and bail, she says, " I could understand them confiscating the shipment until they could test it and satisfy themselves, but to throw [the driver] in jail, was unnecessarily harsh and unfair."
A USDA official declined to comment on the Palamarchuck case. The USDA will hold a public hearing March 13 about hemp regulations that an official says will include transportation issues.