An Oklahoma hemp company is suing a federal agricultural official for allegedly trying to coerce farmers away from participating in the state’s industrial hemp pilot program through false and unlawful statements.
The lawsuit by Equitable Organic Ventures (EOV) claims that Scott Biggs, executive director of the Oklahoma division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), told farmers that if they planted “even one hempseed” they could lose their existing farm loans, be ineligible for new loans and be criminally charged.
The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in western Oklahoma and first reported by the Tulsa World, asked the court to order the FSA and Biggs to stop making such statements.
An FSA official in Oklahoma told Hemp Industry Daily on Wednesday that the office didn’t have a comment on the litigation.
Here are key details from the complaint:
- EOV said it received verbal commitments from about 20 Oklahoma farmers to grow hemp on 59,000 acres across the state as part of an industrial pilot program enacted in April 2018. (A commercial hemp program has been approved by Oklahoma lawmakers but is awaiting Gov. Ken Stitt’s signature.)
- Before signing a written contract, many of the farmers contacted the FSA to ensure their participation wouldn’t compromise their benefits or obligations.
- Biggs allegedly repeatedly and unilaterally communicated to the farmers and FSA employees statewide that the participants could be subject to loan revocation and criminal charges.
The suit also asks the court to enter an order declaring that farmer participation in the hemp program won’t jeopardize FSA loans or benefits, nor result in criminal charges or sanctions.
“As the hemp growing season in Oklahoma is relatively short, the unlawful and false statements made by Biggs to farmers who desire to participate in the Oklahoma Hemp Program, if not soon remedied, will effectively end any possibility of EOV and Oklahoma farmers growing any hemp in 2019,” the lawsuit states.
Jeff Smith covers legislative and regulatory affairs for Marijuana Business Daily and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org