(NaturalNews) A federal court in Louisville, Kentucky, heard oral arguments May 23 from lawyers and officials with the state Department of Agriculture in a case which seeks to force the U.S. Department of Justice to release imported hemp seeds.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II considered a motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction filed a week earlier by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer regarding the state's attempt to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed that has to be planted by June 1. U.S. Customs authorities in Louisville, by the court date, had detained the seeds for more than a week.
Meanwhile, the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper reported, a group of local farmers who are planning to legally plant hemp seeds in Kentucky soil for the first time in decades have delayed that planting until the courts can settle the case.
"We've got all these people coming in from all over the country," said Mike Lewis, executive director of Growing Warriors, a group of military veteran farmers who plan to grow hemp in conjunction with Kentucky State University. "We can't do much. We're going to remain hopeful the commissioner will get this worked out."
He said they may have to stage a protest against the Drug Enforcement Administration's actions and stall for time, while the court considers the case.
"We'll plant some chocolate-covered hemp seeds and point out the hypocrisy of the situation," Lewis told the local paper. "And we'll be ready... if we get the call."
'We don't need a permit'
Lewis' group had planned on planting hemp seeds that were donated by a California company and were apparently imported without any trouble.
Earlier, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, called on the DEA to release the hemp seeds being held in Louisville.
The state Agriculture Department imported the seeds to use in research, but the DEA says it has a right to block them from being used, because Kentucky officials did not get a controlled-substance import permit.
State officials say they don't need a permit, since McConnell "inserted language into the federal Farm Bill earlier this year that allows state departments of agriculture, in conjunction with colleges and universities, to grow industrial hemp for research purposes," the paper reported.
Comer filed a suit days before the May 23 hearing in a bid to force the Justice Department to order the seeds released.
"No state should have to endure what Kentucky has gone through in this process. We must take a stand against federal government overreach," Comer told The Associated Press.
In a statement, McConnell said:
I take a back seat to no one in working to protect Kentucky communities from dangerous drugs such as heroin. It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds. The agency should immediately release the hemp seeds so Kentucky pilot projects can get under way, which will ultimately lead to more economic opportunities in our state.
'This is completely unacceptable'
McConnell's top Democratic challenger in the November elections, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said she supported the Farm Bill "that allowed Kentucky to move forward with hemp for research, and believes the federal government needs to stop picking on Kentucky on this matter."
In addition, Kentucky's junior U.S. senator, Republican Rand Paul, also called on the DEA to release the seeds.
"It is completely unacceptable for federal agencies to hold legal hemp seeds that will be used for Kentucky's legal hemp pilot projects," Paul, a longtime hemp advocate, said in a statement. "The seeds should be released immediately so Kentucky can implement the projects and we can move forward with the reintroduction of industrial hemp, which has great potential to create jobs in our state."
Hemp once was a major crop in Kentucky but has long been outlawed along with marijuana, a related plant. Hemp has far reduced levels of THC, the high-inducing compound in marijuana.
DEA officials admit that the Farm Bill language legalizes the growing of hemp for research purposes but fails to address the issue of importing seeds. For that, officials say, states will need an importation permit.
Update: Customs officials released the seeds to the Kentucky Agriculture Department May 23.