NYPD makes huge pot bust, but it was all legal hemp

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The New York Police Department was pleased with itself in early November. On the 75th Precinct’s Facebook page, they posted images of officers and 106 pounds of what they called “marijuana that was destined for city streets.”

Except it wasn’t marijuana. And it was destined for a legal marijuana dispensary, not the “city streets.” Unraveling all that took time, but not before a shipment was seized and a person arrested -- all for, apparently, doing things that are perfectly legal.

Officers with the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn appeared unable to distinguish between marijuana and hemp, according to Jahala Dudley, one of the people who made the legal shipment.

Dudley told NBC that a person looking at the package “can’t tell the difference. Genetically, it's a very similar plant. I'm not blaming anyone for that. But the paperwork was there. We've had it all tested."

Florida And Texas Saw This Problem Coming Months Ago

Prosecutors in Florida and Texas foresaw something like this happening earlier this year. Reacting to the U.S. Congress making hemp legal in the 2018 Farm Bill, Jack Campbell, a prosecutor in Florida, took the step of publicly stating his office would no longer pursue cases involving possession.

The reason? Because officers can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana. Campbell said that no reliable test yet exists to tell the difference. Police in Palm Beach County in South Florida also ordered officers to stop doing “sniff and search,” where the smell of marijuana is used to justify a warrantless search. The reason is that hemp smells like marijuana.

Texas officials soon followed suit, asking state patrol officers not to pursue low-level possession cases. So, this issue was well known. But, apparently, not in Brooklyn.

Frustrated Business Owners Dealing With Police

In the Brooklyn case, Dudley and her business partner, Buddy Koerner, had grown the hemp from high-end seeds provided by a company in Oregon. The two run Fox Holler Farms in New Haven, Vermont.

After growing and harvesting the hemp, they meticulously packaged the 106 pounds of hemp to ship to a commercial hemp outlet in Brooklyn, according to NBC. They used FedEx, as they had done before, and informed them of what was in the boxes. Dudley told NBC that each box also included documentation that they hold a Vermont hemp grower’s license, as well as a test report from an independent lab confirming the hemp had “non-detectable” levels of THC, the chemical ingredient in marijuana that causes the “high.”

Brooklyn police not only seized the shipment and boasted about it on Facebook, but they also arrested someone from the Green Angel CBD shop in Brooklyn when they arrived to pick up the shipment.

The Post Is Still Up, And The Hemp Remains In Police Custody

As of mid-November, the post was still up on the precinct’s Facebook page, along with many comments criticizing the police for the seizure and arrest. 

Oren Levy, who owns the Green Angel CBD shop, told the Associated Press he fears that the seizure could run him out of business. He paid $17,500 for the hemp. “He was a hungry cop,” Levy said of the Brooklyn police. “He thought he had the bust of the day.”

The Associated Press listed other arrests that have been similar. They include a man arrested in South Dakota with 300 pounds of hemp, and a truck driver in Idaho arrested with 7,000 pounds of hemp. 

This led the federal Department of Agriculture to send a memo to states instructing them not to block transportation of hemp when it contains 0.3 percent or less of THC. Dudley said the hemp in the shipment seized in Brooklyn contained less than half of that amount.

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