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Hemp farmer gets an initial win in court

By Thomas Novelly, Post and Courie

A Dorchester County hemp farmer who was arrested by law enforcement earlier this year after they destroyed his crops has won an initial victory in court.

John Pendarvis, a Harleyville resident, had 10 acres of hemp destroyed by State Law Enforcement Division agents in September. He had a license to grow the crop through the S.C. Department of Agriculture, but authorities said he was growing in unregistered fields. Pendarvis said he tried to update the coordinates and had that request denied. They threw him in jail, charged him with a misdemeanor, and he lost potential profits from the plants. He is the first farmer to be charged with violating the Palmetto State’s new hemp cultivation law.

The farmer managed to find support in circuit court in Marion County last month.

Agents were made aware of an additional 2 acres of land in Marion County that Pendarvis was growing hemp on. It was not included in the Agriculture Department’s documents on file for the farmer, but he had submitted an acreage amendment application to include them.

Circuit Judge William Seals Jr. granted Pendarvis an injunction, which allowed the farmer to harvest and sell those crops until his September case is resolved.

“It certainly appears to the Court that the General Assembly did not want to harshly punish South Carolinians who ran afoul of this new law by mistake, and they recognized that the specific allegations being made against the Plaintiffs could be mistakes for which participants should be allowed opportunities to correct,” Seals wrote.

Any money made from the sale of Pendarvis’ hemp will be put into trust until his criminal case is resolved.

Attorney Patrick J. McLaughlin, who is representing Pendarvis, said his client should be afforded due process before having his crops taken away.

“It’s an important victory because the state has taken the position that all the farmers who participate in growing hemp had waived their due-process rights through their growing agreement. The ruling found that they did not. It’s important when you’re talking about making arbitrary decisions like the state going in and seizing people’s property.”

The Agriculture Department and SLED’s argument is that Pendarvis willfully chose to ignore the guidelines for hemp growing and didn’t make a mistake.

Initially, there were 10 acres in Dorchester County that were registered in the proper place and 10 acres that were not. The Agriculture Department was made aware of the additional 2 acres in Marion County when Pendarvis tried to amend his application to include all his hemp fields.

The Marion County location was nearly 100 miles away from his farm and was being tended by someone not on record, Agriculture Department spokeswoman Eva Moore said. She added that the recent court development didn’t change much in terms of the agency’s investigation.

“I think the judge is being cautious,” Moore said. “They want to get it right and we want to get it right. They want to make sure that the product isn’t destroyed pending a certain outcome in court.”

Hemp has skyrocketed in popularity because of its use in making cannabidiol, often called CBD oil, that is believed to help alleviate symptoms for a variety of physical ailments. While hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant, it is not a narcotic. The crop doesn’t have tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, the active compound in marijuana that gets the user high. The Food and Drug Administration has approved only one CBD-derived drug.

South Carolina has strict hemp laws, and it has been a long journey since it recently began allowing farmers to apply for permits to grow it.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill on the federal level, limits on hemp cultivation and the plant’s status as a Schedule 1 drug were lifted nationwide and South Carolina farmers began growing shortly afterward. The state permitted 113 growers in 2019 to plant hemp on about 3,300 acres.

A spokesman for SLED did not return a request for comment. It is unclear if the division will appeal the circuit court decision. Pendarvis is still a permitted hemp farmer in the Palmetto State.