In what is becoming an increasingly controversial story, a farmer in South Carolina was arrested for growing hemp. Not only that, but law enforcement authorities in the state also destroyed his hemp crop.
In large part, the controversy surrounding the story stems from the fact that the man was actually a state-licensed and approved hemp farmer. Ultimately, this case highlights some of the ongoing confusion surrounding hemp laws in South Carolina.
Law Enforcement Arrests Legal Hemp Farmer, Destroys Crop
Under South Carolina law, licensed hemp farmers must report to the state all acreage on which they are cultivating hemp.
According to news source FITS News, 38-year-old hemp farmer John Trenton Pendarvis was growing hemp on land not reported to the state.
However, Pendarvis and his supporters say it was a mapping mistake. In fact, Pendarvis claims that he was trying to correct his error with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA).
But, he claims, before he could make the correction, law enforcement showed up. Apparently, the SCDA reported Pendarvis’s hemp fields to the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
After receiving the report, SLED acted quickly. They arrested Pendarvis. Then they destroyed his ten acre hemp field. All told, law enforcement destroyed more than $12 million worth of hemp.
Intentional Law-Breaking or Mistake?
At the heart of all this is the question of whether or not Pendarvis was willfully growing hemp on unreported land.
On the one hand, Pendarvis says it was a simple mistake. And one he was trying to fix. Additionally, he was already licensed by the state to grow hemp.
“It is a sad day in South Carolina when a person with an excellent reputation and a license to grow hemp is arrested for being a farmer,” South Carolina Senator Brad Hutto told FITS News. “Cultivation of hemp is legal in South Carolina. It is a plant of great medicinal value that is bringing relief to thousands.”
But on the other hand, law enforcement and the Department of Agriculture clearly believe he was growing on unreported land purposefully.
“SCDDA is required to report to SLED and the SC Attorney General any violations of the hemp program that we believe are willful, which is what we did in this case,” the South Carolina Department of Agriculture told FITS News. “The decision to take action—and what action to take—lies with law enforcement.”
Confusion Regarding Hemp Laws
In the bigger picture, this story highlights the ongoing confusion surrounding hemp in South Carolina.
For starters, the federal Farm Bill of 2018 officially legalized hemp—defined as a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC—across the nation. Additionally, this law gives states the ability to regulate hemp cultivation and production within their borders.
Using this authority, South Carolina has also legalized the cultivation of hemp by licensed farmers.
However, what is not defined by South Carolina law is what to do in a case like Pendarvis’s. More specifically, there is reportedly no actual penalty attached to growing hemp on the wrong plot of land.
As a result, law enforcement apparently has huge amounts of discretionary leeway in cases like this. And as seen in Pendarvis’s cases, that could open the door to cops and other law enforcement agents to essentially go rogue, doing whatever they decide all on their own.