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Charges against truckers hauling hemp “absolutely horrific”

Pressure is mounting to drop charges against three truckers accused of illegally hauling hemp across Idaho.

“It’s absolutely horrific,” said Idaho Representative Ilana Rubel (D-Boise), a legislator who is working to get the charges dropped.

“It’s like a nightmare out of a novel,” she said. “These are hardworking people working for a trucking company. This is what they do for a living – take this load from here to there. This is a good that has been legalized federally. They are doing what their boss told them to do.”

“For doing their job, they are threatened with five years in prison.”

The Ada County Idaho Prosecutor’s Office has charged Andrew D’Addario, Erich Eisenhart and Denis Palamarchuk for illegally driving hemp into Idaho. D’Addario and Eisenhart transported the cannabis product before it became legal at the federal level last year. Palamarchuk was arrested separately for transporting the material across the Oregon-Idaho border – after the federal law had passed.

Idaho does not distinguish between marijuana and hemp. State law defines marijuana as “all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis, regardless of species.” The law states that any “evidence” of THC “shall create a presumption that such material is ‘marijuana’ as defined and prohibited herein.”

Legislators considered several bills during the recent legislative session to legalize hemp in Idaho. None of them passed, and transportation of hemp is still illegal.

Eisenhart and D’Addario are set for sentencing on June 25 and could face up to five years in prison. Palamarchuk is scheduled to go to trial in October.

As of Thursday morning, 9,455 people had signed an online petition calling on the county prosecutor, Jan M. Bennetts, to drop charges against the truckers.

In an ironic twist, the Idaho State Police in February shipped samples of the product confiscated from Palamarchuk’s truck to Kentucky, where it was tested for THC, the chemical found in high concentrations in marijuana – but not in hemp.

The testing bore out claims issued by the shipper that the 6,700 pounds of product in Palamarchuk’s truck was hemp, not marijuana. The irony resides in the fact that law enforcement officials shipped a cannabis product across state lines.

“With all the federal eyes looking at the Idaho case, what’s interesting is that the state shipped product to Kentucky to be tested,” observed Beau Whitney, a senior economist with New Frontier Data, a cannabis intelligence firm.  “I don’t know how they got it there, but I found it really fascinating.”

Tim Marsano, a spokesperson for the Idaho State Police, said while the department won’t comment on the ongoing investigation, “I will tell you that items that enter our evidence chain of custody can be legally shipped across state borders for laboratory testing.”

The Ada County prosecutor’s office does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson told FreightWaves.

Initially, Idaho police declined to release results of the THC testing, Representative Rubel noted.

“They were doing a victory lap off of this guy [Palmarchuk], who had voluntarily presented his bill of lading, pitching it as ‘the state’s biggest drug bust,’” she said.

Only after a court order did they release the results of the test showing the product was indeed hemp.

In Idaho, that isn’t enough to get the charges dropped.

“There is a tight window of time right now to save these guys,” Representative Rubel said. “Once that sentencing happens there is no option to get these guys on their way in life without a criminal record.”


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Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]