California hemp grower sues sheriff, alleges illegal destruction of plants

A California hemp grower is suing a sheriff’s office, alleging the authorities destroyed about 500 acres of their plants, which the company estimates were worth $1 billion, according to the lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit filed Friday calls the demolition of the plants “one the largest wholesale destructions of personal property by government entities in the history of the United States.”

Apothio researches and commercializes hemp plants for use in foods, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, including ones to treat epilepsy. The complaint goes on to say that Apothio LLC is an established agricultural institution that is allowed to legally research and commercialize hemp, by both federal and state law.

Nevertheless, one of Apothio’s attorneys, Katherine Eskovitz, said “the defendants showed up without warning in full tactical gear and ordered the farmers to demolish all of the hemp crops.”

“Apothio was transparent with government officials about its operations in Kern County, which it conducted by the book,” Eskovitz said.

Named in the suit are Kern County and its sheriff’s office, along with the sheriff himself, Donny Youngblood. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and its director, Charles Bonham, are also named in the lawsuit, along with “other unknown county and state officials.”

No one was arrested during the sheriff’s operation. But the sheriff’s office has said the plants’ THC content exceeded the federal limit of 0.3 % for hemp.

Apothio’s lawyers argue it’s irrelevant if the plants exceeded the limit because of the company’s special federal exemption as an agricultural research organization.