A southeast Minnesota hemp grower has reached a settlement with the state Department of Agriculture after suing the agency for ordering him last year to destroy his crop worth an estimated $3 million, his lawyer said.
Luis Hummel, owner of the 5th Sun Gardens hemp farm near Lanesboro, received a letter from the Agriculture Department in May revoking his license. Law enforcement in Fillmore County had stopped someone who possessed cannabis products belonging to Hummel’s company and was traveling to the Twin Cities on his behalf. Hummel was ordered to destroy his crop. He refused and sued the department.
In a twist that highlights the shifting legal landscape around one of Minnesota’s fastest-growing cash crops — the number of hemp farmers in Minnesota rose from 51 to 549 in 2019 — Hummel also faced felony charges from the Fillmore County Attorney’s Office connected to the traffic stop that got his license revoked.
The first of Hummel’s legal matters — his federal lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture — is close to being resolved, said Hummel’s lawyer, Jason Tarasek.
“They are allowing him to process and sell his hemp, assuming it passes a test, and they were there to collect samples today,” Tarasek said in an interview Friday.
The results of the test won’t be known for a week, but Tarasek said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit before then. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said late Friday that he could not comment.
The felony marijuana case against Hummel in Fillmore County, however, is proceeding at full speed.
THC levels in hemp plants can fluctuate with the weather and other factors. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, 30 growers in the state were ordered to destroy 111 acres of hemp in 2019 because it tested too high for THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gets you high.
The concentrates found in the traffic stop that started Hummel’s ordeal tested at more than 3% THC. That’s 10 times the legal limit for hemp under current rules, though only about one-fifth the level of a regular marijuana joint.
The prosecutor in Fillmore County, Brett Corson, told Minnesota Lawyer in an article published Thursday that the case against Hummel will go to trial because the material seized from the car in the traffic stop tested above the legal limit and because it was a concentrate, which exempts it from categorization as a decriminalized small amount.
“He’s treating Mr. Hummel like a hard-core drug dealer,” said Tarasek, who does not represent Hummel in the drug case.
Hummel’s lawyers have asked Judge Matthew J. Opat to dismiss the charges. Opat has until mid-February to make a decision.
“The substances with which he’s been charged, those do constitute a controlled substance,” Corson said in an interview Friday. “Not much more I can add than that.”
The legal landscape for hemp has changed, even in the past year. On July 1, state law was adjusted to distinguish marijuana plants from hemp plants, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has appeared to soften its stance toward hemp growers.
Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Jan. 2 protesting that interim federal hemp rules adopted in October are “unworkable” and will put Minnesota’s “promising hemp industry in jeopardy.”
The USDA wants to require state regulators to test hemp samples within 15 days of harvest instead of 30 days, which Petersen argued is logistically impossible, and run the tests at labs registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which Minnesota does not have.
State officials have also asked the feds to allow remediation of fields that test above the legal 0.3%, instead of requiring them to be destroyed.