New York City finds itself embroiled in one of the latest cases of cannabis confusion across the United States. In late November, The NYPD’s 75th Precinct nabbed a Vermont commercial trucker bound for a Brooklyn shop, Green Angel CBD. Cops believed they had just deterred a haul of marijuana from hitting the streets, 106 pounds to be exact. The precinct was so proud of the arrest and seizure that it took to Twitter to celebrate, with two officers proudly holding their haul.
Except, it wasn’t marijuana they were holding. The cops had seized legal hemp. To make matters worse, when shop co-owner Ronen Levy went to the precinct to clear up the issue, he was arrested and charged with possession.
Despite the mix-up, the Twitter post remains up on the NYPD News Twitter account as of December 12, 2019. More egregiously, Levy’s charges remained for some time after the arrest. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office would eventually drop the charges on December 10th.
Levy, along with his co-owner brother Oren, stated that the NYPD had yet to return the hemp at the time of the charges dismissal. The return of the hemp flower is merely symbolic for the shop at this time. The product would not have been properly stored in an evidence locker and has likely degraded the product beyond use.
That degraded product represents a costly $20,000 error on the NYPD’s part, according to Levy. In the days leading up to the charges being dropped, the store owner voiced concerns that his business could not survive the charges and loss of product as well as buyers and suppliers.
The ongoing plight of Levy and his business is the latest in an all too common occurrence between law enforcement and legal hemp truckers across the United States.
Numerous states and hemp businesses have become tangled in the legal confusion since early 2019. In January, a four man trucking crew were arrested in Pawhuska, Oklahoma for hauling a semi with nine tons of hemp. Two of the men, Tadesse Deneke and Farah Warsame, were released from prison nearly a month later. The four men had their charges dropped in July.
By March, the DEA was aware of the ongoing concern. A spokesperson for the agency, Barbara Carreno, said, “Nobody wants to see someone in jail for a month for the wrong thing…To enable us to do our job, we have to have something that can help us distinguish.”
However, the issues continued.
August saw a similar situation in Jackson, South Dakota, where a trucker was hauled in mid-route with hundreds of pounds of Colorado hemp. The bust started after the driver had been stopped for allegedly speeding. Bound for Minnesota, the Minnesota Hemp Association stood by the trucker, stating the products had been tested prior to shipping.
A similar case played out the year before, with sentences handed out in the fall of 2019. In September, two truck drivers were given suspended sentences with time served for driving 915 Colorado hemp plants across the state. Bound for Oregon, the drivers were arrested and initially charged with felony possession with intent to distribute.
While truckers have faced the brunt of the arrests, the issue with hemp extends further into the community.
Right around the time of the New York City arrest, Miami had its own issue with hemp. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle informed the 35 departments in the county to halt low-level marijuana arrests until it can determine the difference between hemp and marijuana to avoid further issues. Despite the memo, a November report found that police continue to arrest individuals for misdemeanor possession.
“Hemp’s effect on the broader cannabis market is that law enforcement is having difficulty ascertaining what is hemp and what is not hemp,” remarked Beau Whitney, EVP and senior economist for New Frontier Data.
Whitney acknowledged ongoing issues around field tests and technology in development. Whitney described the only currently available solution, while noting that not every community is equipped to implement it. “Given the difficulty in telling the difference, the only option is for law enforcement officials to confiscate the material and have it independently tested.”
The senior economist stated that halting low-level offenses, like what Miami had intended to do, has been the course of action for many cities. However, Whitney said action must come from a higher level. “This problem cannot be solved at the local or state level. It will need to be addressed through federal reform.”
In the meantime, truckers and others can only hope to avoid such an outcome. Several experts in the space responded to this article offering solutions on how to do so. Many pointed towards police implementing lab testing as the only way one can verify the difference between marijuana and hemp. Others pointed towards mobile testing devices or focusing on delta-9 THC instead of total THC content.
Regulations are changing and law enforcement has often shown it is unprepared to take on the new reality for hemp and marijuana. While understandable, it is not acceptable when lives are being disrupted, products are lost and businesses face the brunt of the damages. Securities Attorney Kendall Almerico represents California’s Goldenseed.
The attorney acknowledged the difficulties law enforcement has, highlighting lessons most of us have grown up on since childhood. “Most of us grew up knowing what the smell of “pot” was…Now, with hemp products and hemp cigarettes, the confusion is going to continue because they smell just like what we all knew to be marijuana for our entire lives.”
The confusing smell can’t serve as an excuse, Almerico added. Instead, the attorney believes that there is a two-step remedy to the ongoing issue. “Only with education, and with the legalization of marijuana rolling out across the nation, will this confusion eventually stop.”