Dozens of Indiana residents arrested for harvesting ginseng plants too early

Dried ginseng roots. (Source: Fotalia / Stephanie Fray)
Dried ginseng roots.  (Source: Fotalia / Stephanie Fray)
Dried ginseng roots. (Source: Fotalia / Stephanie Fray)

INDIANA — A number of Hoosiers are facing charges and potential jail-time for merely possessing ginseng plants without government permission.

According to media reports, a total of 25 residents were caught up in a government crackdown to ensure compliance with the state’s onerous regulations on the natural plant, desired for its roots.

Indiana dictates every aspect of ginseng cultivation, including the issuance of a state license to “deal” ginseng; prescribing the dates of permissible harvesting; specifying the required plant characteristics before harvesting; controlling where and how it can be grown; controlling when and how it can be harvested; and controlling when, where and how it can be sold.

Ginseng plants ready to harvest.  (Source: itmonline.org)
Ginseng plants ready to harvest. (Source: itmonline.org)

“It is ILLEGAL to buy, sell, or possess any ginseng out of season without written authorization from the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Law Enforcement,” states an official brochure from the Indiana DNR.

Individuals are only allowed to harvest ginseng between September 1st and December 31st each year (some restrictions apply).  Selling ginseng is only permitted by licensed individuals between September 1st of the current year through March 31st of the following year (some restrictions apply).

Penalties for violating the various prohibitions on ginseng range between Class A and Class B misdemeanors, with maximum penalties of 1 year and 180 days in jail, respectively.  Indiana Code 14-31-3 covers ginseng regulation and enforcement.

The recent police crackdown involved state conservation officers “acting on tips” regarding unlicensed ginseng growers, and with search warrants they shook down citizens for contraband plants.  Officers arrested or cited individuals in Clark, Harrison, Martin, Orange, Scott, and Washington Counties.  Names of those facing charges, as so far released, includes:

  • Derek Durden, 40, Hardinsburg, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • Kyle Sneed, 34, Paoli, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • David Pittman, 56, Paoli, possession of ginseng during closed season, theft.
  • Dustin Walton, 33, Hardinsburg, possession of ginseng during closed season, theft.
  • Parker Mullins Jr. 18, Hardinsburg, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • William Yockey, 37, Eckerty, possession of ginseng during closed season, resisting law enforcement.
  • Michele Reitz, 43, French Lick, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • Starla Enlow, 32, Shoals, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • Randy A. Stidham, 44, Austin, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • Randy L. Stidham, 26, Austin, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • George Stidham, 68, Austin, possession of ginseng during closed season.
  • James McCurry, 43, Hardinsburg, possession of ginseng during closed season, theft.
  • Devon McCurry, 19, Hardinsburg, possession of ginseng during closed season, theft.
  • Daniel Arnold, 30, Salem, possession of ginseng during closed season, theft.

The plant is desired around the world and has a number of professed medicinal benefits, including stress relief, immunity support, blood sugar control, among other things.  Its rarity, usefulness, and black market restrictions enable ginseng to fetch prices between $500 and $1000 per pound.

The black market has also driven people to commit property crimes such as stealing ginseng and secretly growing/harvesting ginseng on land belonging to someone else (to obscure blame for unlicensed cultivation).  Of the listed charges this week, theft was a minority — most people were charged just for possessing ginseng out-of-season.

Setting aside the property violations, would people in a free society be imprisoned for merely possessing a naturally-occurring plant?

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