A South Carolina farmer is suing several state agencies claiming that they conspired to deny him his due process rights after authorities destroyed his hemp crop in 2019, which was cultivated in unregistered fields, the Associated Press reports. In the lawsuit, John Pendarvis argues that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Department of Agriculture, and attorney general’s office denied him due process after agriculture department officials found unreported hemp crops during a check of his property.
Pendarvis claims in the lawsuit, which was filed on September 16, that he had filed an amended hemp application with regulators that indicated droughts had forced him to move his crop’s location. However, Derek Underwood, assistant commissioner of the Agriculture Department’s Consumer Protection Division, claimed that Pendarvis’ moving of the crop was a “willful violation” of the state’s hemp farming program, according to emails shared in the complaint outlined by the AP. Underwood subsequently sought approval to destroy the crop, the report says.
In the lawsuit, Pendarvis says the legal mechanism for seeking such approval is unclear which is why he argues the government violated his due process rights. Under the state’s hemp law, registered farmers must report their hemp crops’ coordinates to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and cannot grow plants that exceed the federal THC limits. Farmers are also required to correct any negligent violations.
Pendarvis, a fourth-generation farmer, is the first person charged with a misdemeanor crime under the North Carolina hemp farming program.
In emails included in the lawsuit, South Carolina Solicitor General Adam Cook describes the enforcement mechanism in the state law as “ultra-murky,” giving “no direction whatever to law enforcement.” In the emails, the state attorney general’s office advised the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to “seek judicial authorization” to ensure Pendarvis “receives due process,” according to the documents reviewed by the AP.
After SLED was unable to get a local judge to sign their seizure and destruction order, agents – without detailing their intent to destroy the crop – secured an arrest warrant for Pendarvis from another magistrate. Emails included in the complaint show that SLED agents took this action despite the original judge offering to hold a hearing in the matter, which SLED’s general counsel Adam Whitsett declined.
Officials in the attorney general’s office then amended their guidance to agree with SLED’s interpretation that the hemp farming participation agreement – which allows the destruction of crops grown in an unlicensed area – amounted to the “valid consent” necessary to pursue their plan. Pat McLaughlin, Pendarvis’ attorney, told the AP that nowhere in the participation agreement do farmers waive their right to challenge such claims. Pendarvis also claims the agents denied his repeated requests to call his attorney.
In an emailed statement to the AP, South Carolina Attorney General’s Office Communications Director Robert Kittle said the lawsuit “lacks merit.”
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