A locally registered hemp researcher has reportedly filed a $1 billion claim against Kern County over what he says was the "illegal and unlawful taking" of close to 500 acres of plants the sheriff's office said were actually marijuana.
In the claim, Indiana-based Apothio LLC and its top executive, former chiropractor Trent Jones, cited California statutes allowing researchers to possess hemp, according to images displayed online by local TV station KGET-TV.
The claim is the first step in a process that, if denied by the county, would likely set the stage for a lawsuit.
County and sheriff's office officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday afternoon. Neither did Jones or two of his local associates.
Jones has told The Californian that Apothio contracted local farmers to grow about 500 acres of hemp near Arvin. He acknowledged some of his crop tested above the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
He said he planned to destroy any plants that test "hot," meaning above the legal threshold for THC. But he also emphasized that as a qualified business person with a research contract with Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest, he was not legally obligated to test the crop, much less destroy it.
Industry lawyers say state and federal guidelines permit individuals and companies working with an institute of higher education to possess, but not sell or process, hemp that tests above the federal limit. They add, however, that the research exemption — any other type of hemp grower would have no recourse but to destroy hot hemp — is essentially a legal loophole that may eventually have to be addressed by the state Legislature.
The Kern County Sheriff's Office reported Oct. 31 it had eradicated more than 459 acres of purported hemp that was actually marijuana in the Arvin area. It valued the crop, spread across 11 fields containing an estimated 10 million plants, at more than $1 billion.
Samples of the destroyed plants measured "well above" the 0.3 percent THC limit, according to a KCSO news release. Sources have told the Californian some of the samples tested as high as 7 percent.
A recent lawsuit filed by former business associates of Jones accuses Apothio of knowingly cultivating hot hemp. It says the company locked the former business associates out of a processing facility in Arvin after they confronted him about test results they had gathered without his permission.
Hemp has become highly valued in recent years as consumers embrace the cure-all known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which comes from the hemp plant.
No other county in the state has more registered hemp acreage than Kern. But because of concerns about the research loophole, the county ag commissioner said he will no longer register hemp fields for research purposes.