Oregon Industrial Hemp Litigation: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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oregon hemp nuisance litigation
Nuisance pollination can cause a row.

In recent posts, we’ve discussed cases where a neighbor to a cannabis grow sued the grower for nuisance, claiming that growing cannabis interfered with the neighbor’s use of their land. See here, here, here, here, here, and here. These lawsuits relied on the non-cannabis landowner’s claims that the federally illegal cannabis business caused harm because of odor, disruptive activity, and diminution of property values.

As of last week, we have another variation on the nuisance theme. On August 31, 2018, Jack Hempicine LLC (“Hempicine”), a Polk County hemp grower, sued fellow hemp farmers for nuisance and other torts. Unlike the previous cases, this case claims that the harm to the property was caused when the other farms cross-pollinated the Hempicine farms and ruined its crops. Jack Hempicine LLC v. Leo Mulkey Inc., Case No. 18CV38712, Polk Cty. Sup. Ct.

In this case, Hempicine alleges:

Cross-pollination is a significant risk in the hemp growing industry. There are two specific risks. First, male plants that contain higher THC levels can pollinate female hemp plants that originally contain low THC levels. The resulting seeds produce plants with highest levels than the original female plant, which means the resulting plants also have lower amounts of CBD and CBG. Second, pollinated female plants may produce both male and female seeds. Female seeds are more desirable because female plants are grown to full maturity and harvested at the end of the season, whereas male plants die off shortly after pollination… The risk associated with cross-pollination is well known in the hemp and cannabis growing industries.”

According to the complaint, Hempicine began producing hemp and hemp seed in Polk County in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, Hempicine allegedly told defendants that Hempicine only produced feminized seed, warning the defendants of the risks from cross-pollination from male plants. Hempicine says that after this meeting, the defendants grew male hemp plants that cross-pollinated Hempicine’s female plants, giving them high levels of THC and making them unmarketable. The Hempicine complaint calculates its damages for loss to the 2016 and 2017 crops to exceed $8 million, and says that it will amend its complaint to include damages from the lost 2018 crop later.

Hempicine’s complaint seeks recovery under four separate legal theories. First, it alleges that the defendants breached a duty of care to Hempicine and was thus negligent. Second and third, it alleges that the defendants acted negligently or recklessly in growing male hemp plants on their property, and thus are liable for trespass or nuisance. Fourth, the complaint alleges that defendants grew male plants in the vicinity of the Hempicine farms that they knew would likely result in cross-pollination, and thus have intentionally interfered with Hempicine’s economic relations.

This is not the first time this issue has arisen. During the Oregon Legislature’s efforts to pass hemp legislation, cannabis producers noted the risk of cross pollination between cannabis and hemp, which of course are just two varietals of the cannabis sativa plant. Among other things, some cannabis producers urged the legislature to create separate agricultural zones for hemp and cannabis (which didn’t happen). There are also a number of lawsuits involving similar claims of cross-pollination by GMO crops. Hopefully this industry can find a way for hemp and marijuana farms alike to be neighbors.

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