Hemp Farmer Sues SLED, SC Attorney General

Hemp Farmer Sues SLED, SC Attorney General

A hemp farmer has now filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office — stating they were involved in a conspiracy to violate his civil rights and illegally destroy his crops.

John Pendarvis, a licensed South Carolina hemp grower, who was arrested in 2019 for growing hemp, names SLED Chief Mark Keel, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, and Commissioner of the S.C. Department of Agriculture Hugh Weathers in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also details incidents where state officials misled the court and Pendarvis’ attorneys to cover up their actions. This is not the first legal action Pendarvis has taken since a large portion of his crop on 10 acres was cut down and destroyed in 2019. Last year in Dorchester County, Pendarvis filed a lawsuit against the S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and SLED, citing both his arrest and the destruction of his crops were illegal. That state lawsuit is pending.

“When a state judge denied their request to destroy Mr. Pendarvis’ crop, they ignored it. When the Attorney General’s opinion recommended a hearing to preserve due process, they conspired to ‘amend’ it. When the law required them to turn over communications related to the incident, they withheld them,” McLaughlin stated.

“There is significantly more evidence showing their willfulness in violating Mr. Pendarvis’ rights than they ever had supporting that Mr. Pendarvis willfully violated the law.” The issue that led to destroying the crops and Pendarvis’ arrest had to do with the size and location of the hemp the farmer was growing as a participant in the S.C. Department of Agriculture’s program allowing a select number of farmers to grow industrial hemp. Hemp is an agricultural product that comes from the cannabis plant and is often used to create CBD oil. Unlike marijuana, which hemp is often associated with, hemp doesn’t have enough THC “to create the ‘high’ traditionally associated with marijuana.”

In an affidavit, SLED mentioned state agriculture officials noticed, “mature hemp plants growing on an unlicensed site” in Dorchester County in July 2019, McClatchy News reported. Pendarvis reportedly submitted an amendment to his application after their visit.

Pendarvis’ attorneys said official documents, emails, and body camera video show how, following Pendarvis’ request to amend his license to change the locations of his crop due to drought and soil conditions, but instead of working with Pendarvis, authorities used this opportunity to pursue criminal charges against the fourth-generation farmer in an effort to make an example out of him under what the authorities themselves described as an “unclear” and “murky” law.

Law enforcement arrived on Pendarvis’ property on Sept. 19, 2019, to destroy his crop and arrest Pendarvis, who was the first hemp farmer to be charged with violating South Carolina’s hemp growing law, SLED said. All charges against Pendarvis were later dismissed and his license to grow hemp was never suspended or revoked. When Pendarvis asked to call his attorney before his crop was destroyed, the agents first agreed then, after a brief conversation between themselves without audio recording, they refused.

“We’re not talking about technicalities here,” Hutto stated in the release. “We’re talking about the top officials in the state ignoring the law, seeming to forget their oaths to uphold the Constitution and knowingly taking steps to avoid the directions of a state court judge.”

According to the lawsuit, Pendarivs is pursuing compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and all other available damages “caused by the defendants’ deliberate indifference of and violation of the plaintiff’s established constitutional rights.”

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