Judges for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit have ordered the Idaho State Police to release the test results conducted on more than 6,000 pounds of industrial hemp troopers seized during a traffic stop in January, which prove the substance was, in fact, hemp.
It’s the latest development in a politically charged civil court case, running parallel to a criminal case spawned by the same incident. On Jan. 24, Idaho State Patrol troopers found more than 6,700 pounds of a substance they believed to be marijuana, in a truck driven by 36-year-old Denis Palamarchuk. Palamarchuk told police he was shipping industrial hemp to Colorado from Oregon on behalf of a private company, and troopers were suspicious the substance was instead marijuana. A drug-sniffing dog alerted troopers to the presence of marijuana in the truck.
Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Hemp has a plethora of industrial uses, but Idaho is one of the only states in the country where it remains illegal, despite the substance’s legalization on the federal level in 2018. Under Idaho law, any substance containing THC is considered marijuana — and thus, police arrested Palamarchuk on suspicion of trafficking in marijuana. Given the amount of the substance in the truck, Palamarchuk faces a mandatory five years in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction if convicted; his trial is set for October.
The owner of the confiscated hemp, Colorado-based Big Sky Scientific, is suing the Idaho State Police. The company’s attorney asked U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Bush to release the confiscated product, as it was valuable to the company. Bush in February declined to do so and, according to a statement from the company, the Idaho State Police have yet to release the hemp to the firm, even after tests conducted on the shipment proved it was hemp. The company appealed the case, and the 9th Circuit judges placed it on a fast track, according to the statement.
U.S. appellate judges on Friday ordered those tests be made public, according to the statement.
“We are happy that the 9th Circuit has agreed with Big Sky that Idaho taxpayers and the general public deserve to know that Idaho’s own tests performed in a Kentucky lab showed that what we were hauling was in fact hemp and not marijuana,” said Big Sky Scientific CEO Ryan Shore, according to the written statement. “All of our tests showed our shipment was hemp, and every test that Idaho conducted showed that our hemp was significantly below the 0.3% THC limit for industrial hemp.”
Elijah Watkins, the company’s attorney, said he had to file a reply brief on the case in the 9th Circuit Court. After that, he said, he expects the case will be scheduled for a hearing in Seattle in the fall of this year.
- Editor's note - This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: industrial hemp cannot contain more than .3 percent THC. A statement provided to the Idaho Press included inaccurate information.