Hemp farmer sues Minnesota over crop crackdown, says state broke own rules

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, June 6, 2019

By Briana Bierschbach, Minnesota Public Radio News


An industrial hemp farmer from southern Minnesota says state officials are trying to destroy his multimillion-dollar business without due process or clear rules for the budding industry.

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Luis Hummel is suing the state in federal court, alleging the Minnesota Department of Agriculture violated his constitutional rights after they sent him a letter informing him his license was revoked and his crop would be destroyed.

It’s not clear, though, what happened, or if the state followed its own rules.

In the letter to Hummel, dated May 1, the department said the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office pulled over an individual with product they were planning to sell in the Twin Cities from Hummel’s farm, 5th Sun Gardens in Lanesboro. Law enforcement said the product exceeded the THC limit allowed under law in Minnesota’s pilot program for industrial hemp growers.

Industrial hemp is used to produce a variety of products, including CBD that’s extracted and for oils and lotions marketed for ailments including chronic pain and anxiety. The plant is similar to marijuana but is lower in THC, the ingredient that produces a high.

“MDA is revoking your license from the Pilot Project Program and revoking your industrial hemp license for one year,” the letter read. “As a result, you are no longer in the pilot program, and must immediately destroy all viable propagative plant material.” A spokesperson for the department said she cannot respond to pending litigation.

Hummel, though, said he was never contacted by law enforcement or provided any information about who was stopped and what was in their possession. And he was never given any evidence that his product’s THC levels were higher than industrial hemp.

Hummel said the individual who was stopped by law enforcement wasn’t arrested.

“They haven’t given us due process, so we will sue them for everything they have if they destroy our property,” he said, taking a break from working in the fields. “You’re not supposed to be able to deprive me of life and liberty or property without a fair trial. Why do they think they are above the law?”

Under the department’s rules, hemp crops are sent to a lab and tested within 30 days of harvest. If the THC content is above the acceptable 0.3 percent threshold, the business has the option to request a second test. If the hemp fails a second test, the business will be ordered to destroy their crop, according to the rules.

Officials never shared the results of the test of the products they said were from Hummel’s farm or gave Hummel an opportunity to request a second test, his attorney wrote in a letter to the department’s lawyer.

The lawsuit comes as Minnesota’s fast-growing hemp industry is just starting to take shape.

The 2014 farm bill allowed state departments of agriculture to grow hemp for research purposes. One year later, the state passed a law allowing the department of agriculture to create an industrial hemp research pilot program.

Last year, Minnesota went from fewer than 100 growers to nearly 500 certified hemp farmers, according to Paul Johnson, head of the Minnesota Hemp Farmers and Manufacturers Association.

Legislators passed new labeling requirements and some regulatory oversight this session, charging the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy with handling any consumer complaints that arise. But most farmers are still unclear about the regulations and what’s legal to sell, Johnson said.

“There are so many people who have invested their livelihood in this,” Johnson said. “We’ll play by the rules if we know what the rules are.”

Until now, Hummel said he’s had a good working relationship with the Department of Agriculture.

“I’ve been very transparent working with them, last year we gave them a lot of information that no one else is giving them,” he said. “A lot of people have been working in the grey areas of the law, where they know nothing is written so they are going ahead and doing things anyway.”

Hummel first got his license from the department back in March of 2018. The local chamber of commerce held a ribbon cutting for his business, which he now estimates is worth at least $3.5 million.

No one has come to his farm to destroy his crop, yet. Hummel thinks it’s because of the pending litigation.

Originally from Chicago, Hummel spent years on the West Coast learning about legal medical and recreational programs. During travels in Minnesota, he spotted some ditch weed and realized the soil was good for the crop, so he moved Lanesboro and started a hemp farm.

Ultimately, Hummel wants to grow marijuana if the state legalizes it for recreational use.

Legislators introduced bills to do that last session and DFL Gov. Tim Walz supports the move, but the proposal was voted down in a committee in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

“All you need when the law changes is just a change of seed,” Hummel said.