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South Carolina Farmer Sues State Over Destroyed Hemp Crop

South Carolina farmer filed suit against the state for the 2019 destruction of his hemp crop.

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.

More information is available at the Associated Press:

“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 included in the complaint indicate that agents took the action even though the original judge offered to have a hearing. [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.”

South Carolina has yet to legalize medical marijuana, even though it already has a hemp law.

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

Although the bill was approved by the state Senate in February, it fell in flames at the 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. You must make your point. 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.”

After the bill was approved by the Senate, he applauded the colleagues.

“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. Although they expressed concerns, the group did not do anything but dig in to improve the bill. 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.