State officials burn nearly $20,000 in hemp that failed standard

Published: Apr. 12, 2017 at 10:54 PM EDT
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Thousands of dollars worth of hemp will go up in flames Thursday in Lexington.

The Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture has ordered five barrels of industrial hemp that barely missed complying with government standards to be burned.

But the frustrated owners of the hemp say losing the plants will hurt people who depend on them.

Bill Polyniak, president of the Kentucky Cannabis Company, bought the hemp for around $18,000 from Lyndsey Todd, who grew it in greenhouses in Pulaski County.

The hemp - more than 100 pounds in total - tested just above the legal limit of delta-9 THC, the primary intoxicating ingredient in the cannabis plant.

Therefore, KDA officials are required to order it destroyed.

The hemp must be under the legal limit before Polyniak or any other processor can turn it into oils and items people use to treat health issues like seizures in children.

"I find it unimaginable that somebody would want to burn hemp that's helping children," Polyniak said Wednesday. "I can't fathom that."

Todd said, "I'm devastated. It's like a modern-day book burning."

"It's very frustrating to work so hard, have a whole growing season, have a beautiful crop, tons of research for the KDA and then for it not to be acceptable and to just watch it be burned, it's heartbreaking."

The hemp is scheduled to be burned at one p.m. Thursday.

KDA officials estimate less than one percent of the hemp that was grown in Kentucky last year will require destruction.

Here is the full statement from the KDA:

"Congress and the Kentucky General Assembly have established 0.3% delta-9 THC as the legal limit for a cannabis plant to be considered industrial hemp. Both state and federal law treat cannabis materials in excess of 0.3% delta-9 THC as illegal marijuana. (Delta-9 THC is the primary intoxicating ingredient in the cannabis plant.)

As the state agency tasked with managing Kentucky's industrial hemp research pilot program, the Department of Agriculture has a responsibility to ensure that the hemp grown by our program participants stays below the 0.3% THC threshold. Unfortunately, some of the hemp grown by a few of our program participants last year exceeded the THC limit. In order to prevent that noncompliant material from entering the marketplace, the Department must ensure that it is destroyed. We estimate that less than 1% of the hemp that was grown in Kentucky last year will require destruction.

The Department emphasizes that these orders for destruction do not imply any wrongdoing on the part of the program participants who grew it. THC levels can vary depending on growing conditions including weather, crop diseases, and insect pressure. As a result, the fact that a participant has grown noncompliant material is not indicative of bad motives or an intent to break the law.

Kentucky's industrial hemp research pilot program continues to expand at a steady rate and other states look to Kentucky as a model to emulate. Interest in the program continues to grow across the Commonwealth. For 2017, the Department approved 209 applications from growers who have been approved to cultivate up to 12,800 acres of industrial hemp, nearly triple the number of acres that were approved for the previous year.

Commissioner Ryan Quarles has said that his strategy is to use the pilot program to encourage the industrial hemp industry to locate, expand and prosper here in Kentucky. We are well on our way to making that vision a reality, and responsible enforcement of the limits set by Congress and the General Assembly is an important component of our work."