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KY hemp group accuses police of illegal store raids, files lawsuit to stop them

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 7/15/2021 Jack Brammer, Lexington Herald-Leader

Jul. 15—The Kentucky Hemp Association is asking a state judge to stop police from conducting what it says are illegal and improper raids on hemp businesses selling products containing Delta-8 THC. It is a substance touted as "marijuana lite."

The group claims state police illegally raided two lawful hemp retail stores June 15 in Morehead, Since then, said Dee Dee Taylor, an association member and chief executive officer of the Hemp Wellness Center in Louisville, the Casey County sheriff's office illegally raided five stores in that county, state police raided a Hardinsburg store and a police task force raided a store in Hardin County.

"We are not criminals," said Taylor. "These raids are being conducted by an opinion letter from the state agriculture department."

The non-profit trade group asked a judge in Boone Circuit Court Tuesday to stop police from using an April 19 letter from the state Department of Agriculture to target hemp products containing Delta-8 THC.

The association sued Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and State Police Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr. in their role as state officials.

The agriculture department's letter came from Joe Bilby, the department's general counsel. He told Kentucky hemp license holders that the department had received public inquiries about the legal status of products containing Delta-8 THC under federal law and state law.

"I am writing this letter to advise you that Delta-8 THC is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law and Kentucky law; that distributing products containing this substance is illegal; and distributing such products could lead to your expulsion from the hemp licensing program as well as potential exposure to criminal prosecution," said Bilby.

"For that reason, you should not manufacture, market, or distribute products containing Delta-8 THC. Failure to heed this guidance could result in the revocation of your hemp license and expose you to the risks of prosecution by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies."

Sean Southard, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said Kentucky has 445 licensed hemp growers.

"When hemp advocates first approached policymakers about legalizing hemp, they assured everyone that hemp was different from marijuana and that it was not an intoxicating substance," said Southard. "Relying upon those assurances, the Kentucky General Assembly and the United States Congress passed laws legalizing hemp by creating a definition to separate it from psychoactive forms of cannabis that puts users in an altered state.

"Now, some want to argue that lawmakers accidentally legalized an intoxicating synthetic substance called Delta-8 THC. This position is outside the mainstream, so much so that even Colorado — a state known for legalizing recreational marijuana — has banned Delta-8 THC products," Southard said.

Southard said claims that Delta-8 THC is 'natural' are false. "Delta-8 THC products do not contain compounds naturally extracted from the hemp plant," he said. "They contain synthetic Delta-8 THC compounds created in a lab."

He cited news reports that found some Delta-8 THC products are being made with battery acid and pool chemicals and have made people sick. He noted that poison control centers in Virginia, Michigan, and West Virginia have issued bulletins warning about the toxicity of the products.

"If legislators wanted to legalize this product, it would be simple enough for them to enact a law saying so," he said. "Because they haven't, we have to follow the law and educate our license holders about what is legal and what isn't."

The hemp association argues that the substance is a legal derivative of hemp under the applicable state and federal legislation that regulates hemp production.

It also says that inaction from the courts could have a "potential billion-dollar impact to Kentucky's economy, hemp growers, producers, and retail store owners."

A state police spokesman said KSP does not respond to pending litigation.

Joining the hemp association in the lawsuit are Kentucky Hemp Girl, a retail store in Burlington in Boone County, and Rocky Ridge Hemp, a hemp farm in Cynthiana.

The Boone Circuit Court Clerk's office said Thursday afternoon that no court hearing has been scheduled yet on the lawsuit.

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