[Editor’s Note: The U.S. needs to just legalize cannabis, so no one gets arrested for a load of hemp. It’s just too hard for local authorities to do the right thing.]
Police say they’ve made the biggest marijuana bust of all time, but owners say it’s hemp.
In December, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) made a grand show. Waving a pen made from hemp over the 2018 Farm Bill like a magic wand, McConnell ushered in what he promised would be a brave new era for farmers in his home state: They could grow hemp again, legally, and bring their crop to market without fear of arrest and seizure by federal drug agents.
It took only a few weeks after President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law for McConnell’s promise to be put to the test. And early results, like the load of nearly 18,000 pounds of what its erstwhile owners insist is pure Kentucky hemp, seized by Oklahoma law enforcement who insist it is, in fact, the biggest-ever marijuana bust and have charged the four men transporting the load with drug-trafficking charges, are not encouraging.
Panacea Life Sciences is a Colorado-based company that needed more industrial hemp than Colorado could provide. On Jan. 9, a truck and a van were pulled over by local police in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, as local media reported.
Paperwork found the shipment of 17,258 pounds of “plant material” indicated that the plant material was hemp, or cannabis sativa with 0.3 percent or less of THC. After a “field test,” police disagreed, and seized the shipment and arrested the four men — two drivers in the truck and two employees of a security firm following the truck in a van. Prosecutors this week filed drug-trafficking charges against the four men — despite still not being entirely sure that it was marijuana in the truck.
As of Friday, all four remained in jail pending lab results. Oklahoma authorities apparently shipped some of the suspected marijuana to a Drug Enforcement Administration lab in Washington, D.C., rather than do the very simple testing locally. This was an odd move, considering states have had drug-enforcement labs for decades, and even odder considering that Oklahoma has medical marijuana now, and the lab equipment necessary to test for potency is commercially available.
But since the DEA is hamstrung thanks to Donald Trump’s shutdown, no results are available and the men remain in jail on the basis that even though “we don’t have a level” of THC “yet,” the Osage County District Attorney’s Office is still convinced that what they have is marijuana and not hemp, according to KFOR.
“While we are fully aware of the new federal regulations pertaining to the interstate transportation of hemp, it is our belief that what was being transported was more than hemp as alleged by both the defendant’s attorneys as well as others associated with the companies purportedly associated with the truck involved,” the DA told KFOR on Wednesday. “The state will proceed with what we believe are appropriate charges and expect that the full story will come to light as the case moves forward through the courts.”
Attorneys for the men working the shipment say they have evidence that proves the exact opposite.
“We have a suite of paperwork that [proves the shipment] is hemp, but they jump to the conclusion that it’s marijuana and that it’s the biggest marijuana bust of all time,” Colorado-based attorney Mark Robison told Tulsa World.
According to Robison, the nearly 9 tons of hemp is worth about $850,000, and was intended to be processed into various CBD products. And according to attorney Matt Lyons, who is representing the two men who worked as security, they have both GPS tracking, video surveillance, and lab results from the Kentucky-based supplier that proves the load is hemp.
It’s important to remember that even before McConnell’s magic show — which promised to create a domestic source for the CBD poured into coffees and extracted into cosmetics, pills, and other “wellness” products sold by everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP to video-rental stores in the heartland — industrial hemp and its related products were all legal commodities in the United States.
There are many examples: Dr. Bronner’s soap, hemp seeds, hemp clothes, hemp wicks, and whatever it is that CBD entrepreneurs are using as source material.
Whatever it is, as long as it had 0.3 percent or less of THC, the key distinction that, in the federal government’s eyes, makes cannabis sativa legal (hemp) or illegal (marijuana).
But what good is any of that if the very commercial activity McConnell is openly encouraging is intercepted by police and the participants slapped with charges worthy of cartel kingpins? Not very good. If he was serious about anything, McConnell should dig around for that pen and start writing messages to both the DEA and Oklahoma authorities, who are demonstrating that it takes more than a change in the law to change law enforcement.