BOISE — Denis Palamarchuk didn’t have to appear in court Sept. 26 in Ada County — he’d been excused by a judge — but he felt it was important to be present.
So he drove from Portland, Ore., to the Ada County Courthouse, where his case — once a felony case, reduced to a misdemeanor charge — would be resolved, and where he would fill out paperwork to begin his unsupervised probation.
Palamarchuk is one of three men in two separate cases who were originally charged with felonies after police found them transporting industrial hemp through Ada County in the past year-and-a-half. All three settled their cases in court Sept. 26, pleading to misdemeanors, and receiving withheld judgments. They will pay fines, and face no more jail time.
The withheld judgment means the court could dismiss the case if the men successfully complete the terms of their sentence. Though the charge would still show up on their record, the conviction would not.
In January, Palamarchuk, a trucker, was transporting a shipment of more than 6,700 pounds of industrial hemp from Oregon to Colorado on behalf of Big Sky Scientific LLC. Idaho State Police arrested him on suspicion of drug trafficking in marijuana. About nine months before that, Andrew D’Addario, 28, and Erich Eisenhart, 27, were arrested after officers found they had 915 industrial hemp plants in a truck they drove; the two men were traveling from Colorado to Oregon. They, too, were charged with trafficking marijuana, and also faced a mandatory five years in prison if convicted.
Hemp, like marijuana, is a cannabinoid. By federal law, it contains .3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It doesn’t produce a high. Industrial hemp is used in the production of everything from rope to beer to lotion. It is legal almost everywhere in the country except for Idaho, where it is still considered marijuana, because it contains THC. When President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill in December, it became possible for the interstate transport of hemp to become legal. Ada County attorneys have written in past court documents they do not believe the state governments involved in these cases had taken the necessary steps to make the interstate transport of hemp legal.
Hemp is, however, legal in Colorado and Oregon.
The three cases sparked heated discussions at the Idaho State Capitol this past legislative session, as lawmakers debated a bill to legalize hemp in Idaho, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
So was an effort by three Idaho lawmakers — Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise; Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton; Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley — to convince prosecutors to drop the charges. In May, they personally delivered a petition with more than 13,000 signatures to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, urging the dismissal of the case.
Prosecutors didn’t drop the case, but they did strike an agreement with Palamarchuk, D’Addario and Eisenhart. Under those agreements, D’Addario and Eisenhart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. It’s the second time the two have entered a plea in their cases — in April they pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver it, which is a felony. Earlier this month, in light of the agreement they reached with prosecutors, a judge allowed them to withdraw those pleas and plead, instead, to the misdemeanors.
Ada County Magistrate Judge Michael Oths issued a withheld judgment in their cases. The men will serve two years of unsupervised probation and within six months, will pay $5,183.79 between the two of them. Both had been excused by the judge from being present in court Thursday, and neither made an appearance.
Palamarchuk wanted to appear, however, and was there when his agreement became official. He pleaded guilty to possessing a faulty bill of lading for the hemp shipment he was transporting. His attorney, Keith Ball, said it was clear Palamarchuk hadn’t signed the document, and so was guilty of that misdemeanor. Oths also issued a withheld judgment in his case. Under that agreement, he will serve a year of unsupervised probation, and pay $2,360 plus court costs.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Bandy said in court the office believes the agreement is a “proper resolution in this case for his level of culpability and his involvement” in Big Sky Scientific’s decision to move industrial hemp through Idaho. Big Sky Scientific, for its part, has sued the state of Idaho for seizing the shipment of hemp, valued at about $1.3 million. That case continues to slog through the 4th District Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it should stay in a state court.
Ball described Palamarchuk as a “hard worker.”
“So this is a very good result for him,” Ball said in court. “He was facing a five-year minimum.”
As attorneys in the case have done before, Ball pointed to the law governing the transport of hemp through Idaho.
“The law is still in a state of flux,” he said.
Chuck Peterson, who represented D’Addario, said after the hearing, “The law was not in our favor. ... They weren’t going to dismiss.”
Palamarchuk, who is a Russian immigrant and an American citizen, communicated with the judge with the help of a Russian interpreter.
“You’re under obligation, sir, to pay off the amounts and stay out of trouble, and you’ll be fine,” Oths said.
“Oh yes,” Palamarchuk responded, “I do try to obey the law.”