No more jail for hemp haulers is great, but it leaves a bad taste

September 13, 2019

Chuck Robinson

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Idaho prosecutors cut plea deals for three truck drivers who had been charged with drug trafficking for hauling loads of hemp. As with many brushes with the law, these deals leave a bad taste in the mouth.

There is a cliché that says a good compromise is one that leaves all parties a little. By that definition, it is a good deal, then.

The cases of Dennis Palamarchuk, who was arrested Jan. 24, and of Andrew K. D’Addario and Erich C. Eisenhart, who were arrested in April 2018, were resolved in stipulation agreements, or plea deals, that eliminated additional jail time. They each could have been sentenced to five years in prison on the felony drug charge.

That is great. That is as is should be.

However, all the drivers were fined. Each must make restitution, paying the state for the investigation against them. Each driver must serve probation. It still stinks. Still that sour, bad taste in my mouth.

 ‘Simply trying to make a living’

Idaho Rep. Ilana Rubel agrees with me about this compromise leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

“I don’t think there is really cause for celebration here,” Rubel said in an email. “These gentlemen were merely transporting a crop that is legal federally and in nearly every state, and for simply trying to make an honest living they will now have criminal records that will follow them for the rest of their lives. That brings all kinds of adverse consequences, including difficulty in getting jobs, housing, professional licensing, financial assistance for college and more. These are consequences they should not have to bear. I still believe the charges should have been dropped.”

Rubel has been vocal in publicizing the plight of the hemp-hauling truck drivers. She encouraged people to sign a Change.org petition asking prosecutors to drop the charges. She said she appreciates everyone who took action to help these drivers.

“That public pressure may have been critical to getting the charges reduced from felony to misdemeanor charges and ensuring they won’t have to serve more jail time,” Rubel said.

Rubel, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon co-sponsored legislation this year to legalize industrial hemp and harmonize Idaho’s law with federal law. It passed overwhelmingly in House, but died the Senate.

Rubel says that legislative battle is not over.

“In the 2020 legislative session, I will push hard to legalize hemp so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Rubel said.

Plea deal encourages owner of the cargo

Big Sky Scientific LLC, the Aurora, Colo.-based CBD processor that bought the hemp that one of the drivers was hauling, said in a news release that it was encouraged that Idaho dropped the felony drug trafficking charge against the trucker hauling its cargo.

The company agrees the deal leaves a bad taste in its mouth.

“Although Idaho has dropped all drug trafficking charges against the trucker, has returned the semi-truck and trailer to the shipping company, and has returned large industrial hemp shipments to other companies that have shipped hemp through Idaho since Big Sky Scientific filed its lawsuit, Idaho has yet to return Big Sky’s hemp,” reads the news release from Big Sky Scientific CEO Ryan Shore.

Big Sky Scientific still maintains that its cargo was hemp, not marijuana, and that it is protected under the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. The 2018 farm bill removed hemp from the schedule of controlled substances. The farm bill defined hemp as Cannibis sativa plant material with less than 0.3% THC, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, which is from the same species of plant.

Big Sky cites opinions from the U.S. Postal Service that hemp may be mailed legally and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that interstate transportation of hemp is legal.

Big Sky has offered to settle this case and drop claims for money damages if Idaho gives back its hemp cargo and allows interstate hemp transportation through the state.

Regulations not in place yet

The Ada County, Idaho, prosecutor, however, argues that the 2018 farm bill authorized the USDA to develop and publish regulations for hemp production and transportation, but it has not yet done that. Until it does, hemp is the same as marijuana and still illegal in Idaho.

Backing up that point, an executive summary of a memorandum from the USDA general counsel says, “After USDA publishes regulations implementing the new hemp production provisions of the 2018 farm bill … states and Indian tribes may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced.”

Prosecutorial discretion

The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office had the discretion to drop the charges, I believe.

For comparison, CBS2 reported that the Boise Police Department made a hemp bust in May. Boise Police seized 69 pounds of hemp at a UPS distribution facility in Boise. There were seven orders in 17 boxes of hemp. All 17 boxes had a certificate of analysis from Portland, Ore.-based ChemHistory indicating hemp.

After testing, all 17 boxes were returned to the owner.

Ada County and the Idaho State Police could have done something similar. Maybe the publicity of the big drug bust obstructed doing what I believe should have been done. Politics may have gotten in the way.

As it ended for the drivers, though, I believe most of us are relieved it wasn’t worse for them. The compromise still leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson formerly was senior copy editor for a weekly trade publication serving the fresh produce industry. He has served trade publications, horticultural journals and community newspapers for 25 years.