Updated: Jan 19, 2019
May 13, 2014, the day after Murray State planted the first hemp seeds in Kentucky under the pilot program, the DEA seized 250 pounds of hemp seed heading to the University of Kentucky from Italy. The package was first flagged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The DEA offered a wide variety of explanations and requirements to Kentucky officials, perplexed at the seizure, first demanding that all six Kentucky colleges with intended pilot programs acquire controlled substance permits, then insisting that hemp could not be grown on private land (contrary to the farm bill’s language allowing state-approved sites.)
"They're interpreting the law a hundred different ways," Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told HuffPost. "The only way they're not interpreting it is the way it actually reads."
Comer said that he met with Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) prior to the seed order and relayed to them the DEA's claim that it was simply following the intent of the recently passed farm bill, which includes a passage championed by McConnell that allows colleges and state departments of agriculture to cultivate hemp for research purposes."
They were just appalled, because Senator McConnell was the author of the language," Comer said. "He knows exactly what the congressional intent of the law was."
Comer said that between Tuesday morning and mid-afternoon, he had four conference calls with the DEA. One official, he said, suggested the DEA would need to do a criminal background search on the University of Kentucky, one of the schools participating in the pilot program, before it could approve the use of the seeds.
Comer vowed to sue the DEA if the seeds are not released.
The official said that the farm bill doesn't explicitly authorize the importation of hemp seeds -- rather, it discusses their growing and cultivation. Given that it is illegal to import hemp seeds, the DOJ official did not offer a recommendation on where or how states participating in the hemp program could obtain seeds.
After a day of back-and-forth wrangling with Washington, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said late Tuesday that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration had agreed to issue an import permit to the Agriculture Department and by the end of the week release the seed.
"It looks like we've won this round," Comer said in a statement. "The DEA completely reversed course from this morning. I think we just needed to get their attention."
However, at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the DEA sent a letter to the KDA informing Commissioner James Comer’s office that the DEA would require KDA to apply for a seed import license. After reading the particulars and consulting legal authorities, Comer reconsidered. The DEA was requiring the state to get a "controlled substances" import permit, and that would set a precedent for other states.