Closing out a high-profile cannabis case that ignited outrage around the country, the county prosecutor in Ada County, Idaho, agreed to drop felony drug trafficking charges against a truck driver, Denis Palamarchuk, accused of illegally hauling hemp into the state last January.
In court documents filed on September 10, the prosecutor, Jan Bennetts, and defense attorneys agreed Palamarchuk would plead guilty to a lesser offense of carrying an “improperly permitted load, including a faulty bill of lading.”
Under the misdemeanor violation, he will pay a $1,000 fine and is ordered to pay restitution of a little more than four thousand dollars for law enforcement costs.
Palamarchuk had faced five years in prison for bringing 6,700 pounds of hemp across state lines on behalf of Colorado-based Big Sky Scientific. Although hemp was legalized as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, Idaho does not distinguish between hemp and marijuana. Palamarchuk was arrested, and his cargo was confiscated by the Idaho State Police.
The charges against Palamarchuk rested on a technicality. Prosecutors argued the Farm Bill did not take effect until states had implemented programs regulating its production. Since Idaho doesn’t have such a program, and since hemp is illegal in the state, anyone who transports hemp across state lines, according to the prosecution, is violating drug trafficking laws.
The court documents outlining the new plea agreement struck a more conciliatory tone. “The defendant purports that he believed that his cargo was legal,” the document states.
“While ignorance of the law is not defense to criminal prosecution, there is colorable argument that the defendant’s mistaken belief about the status of legalization was due to the representations of his employer, the producer, and the recipient of his load. Additionally, there was considerable amount of misinformation being circulated in the national media surrounding the provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.”
In a statement, Bennetts urged legislators to regulate interstate transportation of hemp.
“The 2018 Farm Bill’s intent of allowing the interstate transportation of hemp will only be realized in Idaho once there is a regulatory system in place, which has not yet occurred in Idaho,” her statement read. “It is our hope that such a regulatory system will be in place soon so those who would transport or ship through Idaho are not at risk of violating Idaho’s law.”
It is unclear how the Palamrchuk deal will impact a related lawsuit filed by Colorado-based Big Sky Scientific demanding the return of the hemp plants, valued at around $1.2 million at the time of the arrest and confiscation. The Idaho State Police has refused, claiming the product was evidence in the criminal case against Palamarchuk.
Earlier this week, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it could not weigh in on that lawsuit, citing case law declaring it should allow a state court to decide the issue.
Representatives from Big Sky and the Idaho State Police were not immediately available for comment.
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In 2018, 1,117 companies filed conflict minerals disclosures, about the same number as in 2017 and 2016. Moreover, the amount of total companies that reported an inability to determine the country of origin of their conflict minerals decreased from 67% in 2014 to 27% in 2018. That said, of companies required to conduct due diligence — directed for companies that hadn’t determined their minerals’ origin or that had reason to believe their minerals were from covered countries — an estimated 61% reported an inability to confirm the source of minerals in their products
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