South Carolina Farmer Sues State Over Destroyed Hemp Crop

The lawsuit was filed against the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Department of Agriculture, and attorney general’s office.
South Carolina

A South Carolina farmer has filed a lawsuit against the state over the destruction of his hemp crop in 2019.

The suit, filed on September 16 by John Trenton Pendarvis, alleges that a trio of state agencies––the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Department of Agriculture, and attorney general’s office––“all denied him due process after Department of Agriculture officials discovered unreported hemp crops during a check of his Dorchester County property on July 30, 2019,” according to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press reports that Pendarvis asserts in the complaint that he “filed an amendment application and said that extensive droughts had forced him to move his crop’s location,” but “Derek Underwood, assistant commissioner of the Agriculture Department’s Consumer Protection Division, insisted that the farmer’s oversight was a ‘willful violation’ of the state’s hemp farming program” and “then began seeking approval to destroy the crop.”

Pendarvis was the first person to be charged under South Carolina’s law governing hemp cultivation.

The 2019 law requires farmers to “report their hemp crops’ coordinates to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture” and bars them from growing “plants that [exceed] the federal THC limits.”

Pendarvis’ lawsuit highlights the law’s lack of clarity and the confusion over how it should be enforced.

The Associated Press has more background on the case:

“After failing to get a local judge to sign their seizure and destruction order, [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] agents — without detailing their intent to destroy the crop — obtained an arrest warrant for Pendarvis from another magistrate. Emails shared in the complaint show that agents took this action despite the original judge offering to hold a hearing in the matter, which [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division]’s general counsel Adam Whitsett declined. Officials in the attorney general’s office then amended their guidance to agree with [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division]’s conclusion that the hemp farming participation agreement — which allows the destruction of crops growing in an unlicensed area — amounted to the ‘valid consent’ necessary to pursue their plan.”

He filed a separate lawsuit last year “in Dorchester County against the S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division saying both his arrest and the destruction of his crops were illegal,” according to The State newspaper.

That complaint included “claims of unlawful arrest, assault and battery, abuse of process, defamation and negligence,” the newspaper reported.

Industrial hemp production was made legal at the federal level when Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, prompting every state in the country to get in on the new “cash crop.”

But despite its own hemp law, South Carolina continues to take a hardline against cannabis, and is one of the last remaining states that has not legalized medical marijuana.

A group of lawmakers there tried to change that in this year’s legislative session.

The state Senate approved a medical cannabis bill in February, but the measure went up in smoke in the state House of Representatives in May.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Tom Davis, has been championing medical cannabis treatment in the state for years.

“If you pound at the door long enough. If you make your case. If the public is asking for something, the state Senate owes a debate,” Davis said in January after introducing the bill in the chamber. “The people of South Carolina deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue.”

He applauded his colleagues in the state Senate after it won approval in the chamber.

“Even those that were opposed to the bill, I mean, they could’ve just been opposed. They could’ve ranted against it, they could’ve tried to delay things. They didn’t. They expressed their concerns, but what they then did is dug in and tried to make the bill better. And so, what you saw over the last three weeks is what’s supposed to happen in a representative democracy,” Davis said at the time.

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