Hemp plants tower above researchers who tend to them at a research farm near Lexington, Ky. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with marijuana, its illicit cousin.

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BOISE — A trial date looms for two men charged with drug trafficking in marijuana for transporting what they say were immature hemp plants from one out-of-state farm to another.

In April, police in Ada County arrested Andrew D’Addario, 27, of Colorado, and Erich Eisenhart, 25, of Oregon after a traffic stop, according to audio from D’Addario’s arraignment in Idaho’s 4th District Court.

Officers caught sight of a truck with the two men inside parked in a parking lot, said Jill Longhurst, the prosecutor in court for the April 13 arraignment. Officers noticed the smell of marijuana from the truck, and the two men appeared nervous, she said. When officers searched the truck, they found 915 live marijuana plants, she said. D’Addario and Eisenhart were transporting the plants for money, she said.

But George Patterson, the defense attorney who appeared in court for D’Addario during arraignment, said the two men were hauling immature hemp plants from Colorado to Oregon, an assertion seconded by Paul D’Addario, Andrew D’Addario’s father. While hemp does contain minuscule amounts of THC, the same chemical found in marijuana, it is not considered intoxicating and is legal in many states.

“I’ve spoken to the farmer who actually grew these plants,” Patterson said on that day. “He’s got a farm in Colorado and he has one in Oregon, and that’s where they were going. They were transporting hemp plants, immature hemp plants, for plantation in Oregon. The hemp plant, when mature, has about 0.1, 0.3 percent of THC in it. The greater marijuana plant has about 25 percent. You can’t smoke hemp. The best you’re going to get out of that is a horrible headache. It’s not worth anything on the street, but it has many, many industrial uses.”

Andrew D’Addario has a college degree, no criminal history and was in the process of moving to Oregon, Patterson said. He asked Magistrate Judge Michael Oths to set D’Addario’s bond at $20,000. Longhurst asked for a $100,000 bond, a request Oths granted. He also set Eisenhart’s bond at $100,000. Eisenhart and D’Addario both posted bond three days later, on April 16, according to court records. D’Addario is back in Colorado, working in Denver, his father confirmed.

Lazarus Naturals, the Seattle-based company the men reportedly worked for, did not respond to request for comment by press time Tuesday. Jeffrey Nona, Eisenhart’s attorney, declined to answer any questions about the case. D’Addario’s attorney, Charles Peterson, did not return an Idaho Press call requesting comment.

The two men were indicted by a grand jury in August. Later that month, they pleaded not guilty to trafficking between 1 and 5 pounds of marijuana. They have a five-day jury trial slated to begin Jan. 23. Their next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 15. If found guilty, under Idaho law, they face a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.

“I’m petrified,” Paul D’Addario, Andrew’s father, said. “The fact that the plants are harmless doesn’t seem to matter.”

Idaho is one of only a few remaining states where industrial hemp is illegal, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 41 states have passed legislation legalizing the plant, according to the conference. All states bordering Idaho have legalized hemp. The plant has been grown across the country for centuries.

Former Republican state Rep. Tom Trail of Moscow, who spent years in the Idaho Legislature campaigning unsuccessfully to legalize industrial hemp, said the state’s history with the crop goes way back.

“Independent hemp was introduced to Idaho in 1847 with the blessing of Brigham Young,” he said.

The crop was legal up until World War II in most places in the country, he said, and was used to make rope. Hemp’s image suffered with the criminalization of marijuana around that time.

“The (Drug Enforcement Agency) sort of melded it together with marijuana, and it’s just been kind of demonized ever since,” Trail said.

Yet that might change at the federal level, if this year’s Farm Bill becomes law. The bill would legalize domestic hemp, a provision backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The bill passed 87-13 and now heads to the House of Representatives, according to a Tuesday story on the website for Roll Call, a newspaper covering the U.S. Legislature.

Yet even Trail conceded that the police who arrested D’Addario and Eisenhart in April didn’t have much choice but to arrest them, saying “under existing law when the arrest was made, law enforcement was probably correct.”

Tommy Simmons and Emily Lowe are public safety reporters for the Idaho Press. Follow @tsimmonsipt and @EmLoweJourno on Twitter.

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