Pot or not? Busts high­light grow­ing con­fu­sion over hemp

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael R. Sisak As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK >> The CBD craze is leav­ing the war on drugs a bit dazed and con­fused.

The ex­tract that’s been show­ing up in ev­ery­thing from candy to cof­fee is legally de­rived from hemp plants, which look and smell an aw­ful lot like that other cannabis — mar­i­juana. They’re so sim­i­lar, po­lice of­fi­cers and the field tests they use on sus­pected drugs some­times can’t tell the dif­fer­ence.

Case in point, New York City po­lice boasted on so­cial me­dia this week about what seemed like a sig­nif­i­cant drug bust: 106 pounds (48 kilo­grams) of funky, green plants that of­fi­cers thought sure seemed like mar­i­juana.

But the Ver­mont farm that grew the plants and the Brook­lyn CBD shop that or­dered them in­sisted they’re ac­tu­ally in­dus­trial hemp, and per­fectly le­gal. And, they said, they have paper­work to prove it.

Nev­er­the­less, when the shop’s owner brother went to the po­lice sta­tion to straighten things out, he was ar­rested. Po­lice said a field test had come back pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana.

Shop owner Oren Levy said that’s likely be­cause hemp of­ten tests pos­i­tive for a per­mis­si­ble, trace amount of THC, or tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, which is the chem­i­cal in cannabis that causes peo­ple to get high.

Field tests used by law en­force­ment of­fi­cers can de­tect THC but aren’t so­phis­ti­cated enough to spec­ify whether a ship­ment is le­gal hemp or low-grade il­le­gal pot, and drug-sniff­ing dogs will alert on both.

“He was a hun­gry cop. He thought he had the bust of the day,” said Levy, whose Green An­gel CBD NYC sells oils, teas and other prod­ucts con­tain­ing the ex­tract. He said he fears the seizure could force him out of busi­ness.

CBD, or cannabid­iol, is also found in mar­i­juana but does not have a psy­choac­tive ef­fect. Some peo­ple say it pro­vides them with pain and anx­i­ety re­lief.

“I can’t be­lieve I’m go­ing through this for a le­gal busi­ness,” Levy said. “I can’t be­lieve my poor brother got locked up.”

Oren and Ro­nen Levy are not alone.

Since the U.S. govern­ment re­moved in­dus­trial hemp last year from the list of il­le­gal drugs, a num­ber of sim­i­lar cases have cropped up across the coun­try.

In July, a man who said he was de­liv­er­ing 300 pounds (136 kilo­grams) of hemp to a Min­nesota CBDoil pro­cess­ing com­pany was ar­rested in South Dakota af­ter au­thor­i­ties there said it tested pos­i­tive for THC. The sub­stance “looked and smelled like raw mar­i­juana,” a state trooper said.

In Jan­uary, Idaho au­thor­i­ties ar­rested a truck driver and seized nearly 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilo­grams)

of what they be­lieved to be mar­i­juana, even though the com­pany ship­ping the ma­te­rial said ac­com­pa­ny­ing paper­work made clear it was in­dus­trial hemp.

At least two other truck­ers and two se­cu­rity guards in­volved in trans­port­ing in­dus­trial hemp have been ar­rested and charged with felony drug traf­fick­ing. In May, the U.S. Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment sent a mem­o­ran­dum in­struct­ing states not to block the trans­porta­tion of hemp that con­tains 0.3% or less THC.

The Nov. 2 Brook­lyn bust that landed Ro­nen Levy in hand­cuffs stemmed from a tip from a FedEx worker who sus­pected the load of plants on their way from Fox Holler Farms in Fair Haven, Ver­mont, to Levy’s shop were mar­i­juana, New York City po­lice said.

“We got in­for­ma­tion about a large pack­age of drugs. We got it in here. We field tested it as mar­i­juana, called the in­di­vid­ual in. He was placed un­der ar­rest,” said NYPD Chief of De­part­ment Ter­ence Mon­a­han.

“It is cur­rently at the lab at this point to make a fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion, was it hemp?” Mon­a­han said. “The in­di­vid­ual had no bill of lad­ing jus­ti­fy­ing its de­liv­ery.”

Ro­nen Levy, who runs his own CBD busi­ness cater­ing to pets, pleaded not guilty to mul­ti­ple counts of felony crim­i­nal pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana. He was re­leased on his own re­cog­ni­zance and is due back in court on Nov. 19.

The po­lice de­part­ment drew at­ten­tion to the bust by post­ing pic­tures on its of­fi­cial Face­book and Twit­ter ac­counts show­ing the of­fi­cers in a room full of the seized plants. Oren Levy and the farm fought back with posts of their own.

Fox Holler Farms said in a state­ment posted on its Face­book page that the ship­ment bound for Levy’s shop was fully com­pli­ant with Ver­mont, New York and fed­eral laws.

The farm’s lawyer, Ti­mothy Fair, said that be­fore the hemp ship­ment left Ver­mont, it was tested at FedEx’s re­quest by a lo­cal po­lice de­part­ment. The level of THC was less than half the al­low­able thresh­old, he said.

A FedEx spokes­woman said even if the plants were hemp, they should not have been shipped us­ing its ser­vice. The com­pany’s ser­vice guide lists hemp plants, leaves, oil and CBD de­rived from hemp among its pro­hib­ited items.

Oren Levy said he would’ve gone to the po­lice sta­tion him­self but couldn’t be­cause he was re­cov­er­ing from a re­cent surgery. Soon enough, Oren Levy said, Ro­nen texted him: “I think I’m get­ting ar­rested.”

“They treated him like a drug dealer,” Oren Levy said. “He’s never been to jail in his whole life. He still hasn’t slept. He’s para­noid.”

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