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State tells politically connected hemp biz to suspend operations

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In this April 24, 2018 photo, pollen is removed from a hemp plant at the Unique Botanicals facility in Springfield, Ore. A glut of legal marijuana has driven pot prices to rock-bottom levels in Oregon, and an increasing number of nervous growers are pivoting to another type of cannabis to make ends meet – hemp. […]

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A politically connected company that is seeking to get into the fast-growing hemp business has had its operations suspended by the R.I. Department of Business Regulation.

Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed Tuesday that Warwick-based American Standard Hemp has “been directed to suspend all licensed activity until they demonstrate to the department that that have come back into compliance with local building and zoning requirements.”

Sheaff could not provide a letter or other document showing when the company’s license became inactive, but said the move followed “a small fire in the facility earlier this year.” The company’s corporate registration lists its principal place of business as 815 Jefferson Blvd. in Warwick.

American Standard Hemp’s leaders have not yet responded to questions on the record. It’s unclear whether the company, which is looking to make CBD products, plans to continue operating in Warwick or will seek to move elsewhere. No other company currently holds a state license solely to handle hemp.

American Standard Hemp’s license application boasts a trio of prominent State House figures.

One of its shareholders is Grant Pilkington, a rising star in House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s inner circle who is currently his deputy chief of staff. The company’s legal counsel is Matthew Jerzyk, a veteran Democratic operative who was one of Mattiello’s State House lawyers and remains close to him. Its chief business officer is Will Farrell, a State House lobbyist who was director of municipal affairs for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, said Pilkington’s involvement “raises serious concerns.”

“The House of Representatives made significant changes to the Hemp Growth Act in Article 15 of the budget and if Pilkington was involved at all in that he may very well have violated the Code of Ethics,” Marion said in an email.

Marion went on to note that the budget article required all regulations related to hemp to win final approval from the General Assembly, saying Common Cause believes that provision is unconstitutional.

“The fact that a senior House advisor is involved in the hemp industry and at the same time the House leadership he works for made an unprecedented power-grab related to that industry is really troubling,” he said.

The company was originally incorporated as American Standard Hemp LLC in August 2017 by attorney Miriam Ross. Jerzyk became its registered agent in June 2018, and the company converted to American Standard Hemp Inc. in October 2018.

Two others listed on the American Standard Hemp license documents — Rick DeFedele and Joshua Sellers — made headlines earlier this year after Ohio police said they seized more than 7,000 ounces of CBD oil from them during a traffic stop. Their ties to the company were reported earlier Wednesday by the website GoLocalProv.

Sodco, an agriculture company with a North Kingstown farm that is co-owned by former state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, is listed as a business partner of American Hemp on its license. But Hodgson said Wednesday night the company has not bought any hemp from his farm so far.

Sodco has recently faced criticism from some of its neighbors due to the smell of the hemp crop.

Ted Nesi ( is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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