Idaho prosecutors cut deals for drivers with hemp cargos

September 11, 2019

Chuck Robinson

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Three drivers of trucks loaded with hemp have agreed to plea deals for driving on Idaho highways.

Dennis Palamarchuk, who had been charged with trafficking in marijuana, has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of improperly permitted load, including a faulty bill of lading, a misdemeanor.

Palamarchuk was arrested Jan. 24 at the East Boise, Idaho, Port of Entry driving a truck loaded with more than 6,700 pounds of hemp to a processing facility for Big Sky Scientific LLC, Auroa, Colo. He had faced a charge of trafficking in marijuana. A trial had been set for Oct. 2.

In another hemp-hauling case, Andrew K. D’Addario and Erich C. Eisenhart have pleaded guilty to amended charges of possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. They were arrested April 12, 2018, carrying more than 900 cannabis plants through Idaho. The men previously pleaded guilty on April 9 to felony possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver. A June 25 sentencing hearing for the men had been continued.

Palamarchuk was sentenced to:

  • 180 days in Ada County, Idaho, Jail with 175 days suspended and being credited for five days served.
  • A $,1000 fine, with $500 suspended, plus court costs.
  • Restitution in the amount of $1,860.
  • One year of unsupervised probation.

D’Addario and Eisenhart were each sentenced to:

  • 180 days in Ada County Jail, with 178 days suspended and credit given for two days served.
  • A $1,000 fine plus court costs.
  • Restitution in the amount of $4,138.79 for law enforcement investigative costs, responsibility for which is shared with the co-defendant.
  • Two years of unsupervised probation.
  • All three of the men waived their rights to appeal their judgement or sentence.

All also agreed in their plea deals that there was and remains probable cause for the more severe charges.

The deals note that despite changes to federal schedule of controlled substances brought about by the enactment of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (the farm bill, passed in December), cannabis plants or harvested crop containing any amount of THC remain illegal in Idaho.

Hemp still not legal in Idaho

The farm bill differentiated hemp from marijuana, both of which come from the same species of plant, and removed hemp from the list of controlled substances. Hemp may have no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was directed in the farm bill to create regulations for hemp production and transportation, but it has not done so yet, the stipulation agreements note. That leaves hemp illegal in Idaho.

The USDA has announced its intention to have rules in place in time for hemp producers to prepare for the 2020 growing season. The USDA counsel also issued an opinion in late May that no state or an Indian tribe may block the shipment of hemp through its territory.

Mitigating factors

The stipulation agreements for D’Addario and Eisenhart noted some mitigating factors, including that neither of them owned the truck involved, a commercially rentable Penske moving truck. Also, they were paid to transport plants from Colorado to Oregon, both states where production and possession of cannabis plant material is allowed.

“The defendant purports that he believed that his cargo was legal despite being paid an inordinate amount for the driving services provided,” according to the stipulation agreement for each defendant.

Palamarchuk’s plea deal also notes that he did not own the truck that he was driving, and that he was operating as a long-haul driver for IYI Trucking LLC driving from Oregon to Colorado, where production and possession of hemp is allowed. It also notes that Palamarchuk believed his cargo was legal and that he had a bill of lading saying the cargo was legal hemp.

“There is a colorable argument that the defendant’s mistaken belief about the status of legalization of hemp was due to the representations of his employer, the producer and the recipient of his load,” reads the agreement.

The plea deals were announced shortly after a federal appeals court in late August refused a request from Big Sky Scientific to overrule an Idaho court that refused to order the cargo released.

Change in Idaho

A petition requesting leniency for Palamarchuk, D’Addario and Eisenhart was created May 5 at Change.org. At last count, more than 22,000 had signed it.

Democrat Rep. Ilana Rubel and Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon, in February co-sponsored legislation (HB 122) in the Idaho House of Representatives to legalize industrial hemp and harmonize Idaho’s law with the federal farm bill. The legislation passed overwhelmingly in House, but died the Senate.

The two representatives also sponsored legislation to give judges more discretion in sentencing.

Rubel has a personal connection to truck drivers and the trucking industry. She shared her story with Greg Grisolano, digital content editor, for a Land Line Magazine story titled, “‘I Can Never Do Enough to Thank Them.’

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.