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Kirk Edmondson, owner of The Pharm Haus CBD in Richardson, opened his shop in 2019. He sells oil, flower and other hemp products manufactured at his farm in Canyon Lake. His stuff is third-party tested, marked with a QR code that will direct people to the certificate of analysis (COA) lab report which shows the chemical makeup of each product. But last February police officers showed up at The Pharm Haus.
“When the cops came, they ended up seizing all my product,” Edmondson said. “I got it back the same day after showing all my COAs, but it was frustrating. They were uneducated. They thought we were selling weed.”
Edmondson said it hasn’t happened since but others haven’t been as lucky. Employees at Smokin’ Glassworks in Frisco said they were supposed to get a batch of prerolled, legal joints this week, but the shipment was seized by law enforcement on its way to their shop.
This kind of thing has been happening right and left ever since the federal government legalized hemp production. The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill removed from the Schedule I controlled substance list hemp that contains less than 0.3% of THC, the chemical in cannabis that gets users high. Determining which is legal hemp and which is illegal weed requires lab tests, which require time and money.
Also in February, a Port Lavaca smoke shop owner was arrested on drug charges after police raided her business and seized products they suspected to be illegal. An employee was also arrested and charged with the manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance between 4 and 400 grams.
Alexandra Degollado, the owner of Faded Smoke Shop, said all the products were legal and she had the COAs to prove it. She retained Port Lavaca attorney Jane Lane and Lisa Pittman from Austin to represent her after being released on a $30,000 bond.
Pittman specializes in cannabis law and was appointed to the Texas Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Advisory Council.
“We are going to be defending her by educating the prosecutor that she sourced her products from legal distributors and she relied on legal certificate of analysis demonstrating that the products she was selling were legal under the law,” Pittman told the Victoria Advocate.
Law enforcement sent the seized products to the same lab they were tested at before busting the shop.
The word on legal hemp has been slow to reach law enforcement agencies across the country. Although commodity hemp production was federally legalized in 2018, it was the 2014 Farm Bill that defined “industrial hemp” and legalized domestic hemp production.
In 2018, a district attorney in Tennessee and local sheriffs greenlit “Operation Candy Crush.” Twenty-three businesses were ordered to close, and 17 owners were arrested because law enforcement claimed their CBD products contained illegal ingredients.
The authorities who pulled off the sting had no idea the hemp products were legal on the federal and state levels. In May last year, a federal judge determined there was no probable cause for the operation, allowing several of the store owners involved to move forward with lawsuits, according to Forbes.
Another extreme example occurred in December 2019 when a contract driver hauling over 3,350 pounds of hemp through Texas was pulled over and arrested by a state trooper. Aneudy Gonzalez, 39, was transporting the hemp across the country for $2,500 when he was stopped on Interstate 40 near Amarillo for driving in the shoulder. In a criminal complaint, the trooper reported smelling what he thought was illegal marijuana.
The trooper walked back to the cargo area of Gonzalez’s U-Haul, popped it open and found thousands of pounds of a “leafy green substance” in moving boxes and black trash bags.
When questioned about it, Gonzalez gave the trooper the COA lab report indicating what he was hauling was legal hemp with no more than 0.3% THC. But the trooper still arrested Gonzalez, who was jailed on federal drug trafficking charges. The charges could have kept him in prison for life.
Gonzalez likely thought this was just another small hiccup in his cross-country job. It was essentially a repeat of what happened to him earlier on the same trip. On his way hauling the hemp from a California farm to a New York company, he was also stopped in Arizona.
Law enforcement there kept him in jail overnight until they were able to confirm the load he was carrying was legal. His time in Texas was not so smooth. He spent nearly a month in U.S. Marshal Service custody at the Randall County Jail in Amarillo. Gonzalez missed Christmas with his family during his time at the jail.
While he waited to be released, the DEA’s Dallas crime lab was testing the plants he was arrested for. Eventually, they determined Gonzalez was telling the truth. He was released from jail and the charges were dismissed. His lawyers said they want to pursue a civil lawsuit for his arrest and detention.
Adam Tisdell, a cannabis criminal defense attorney representing Gonzalez, told The Texas Tribune this case represents a bigger problem in Texas and across the country.
“They legalized a plant that has a distinction that’s invisible to everyone except a machine,” Tisdell said. “Aneudy got searched because they smelled marijuana. Well, they can’t smell marijuana anymore. They can smell cannabis.”
This kind of confusion with testing has led some law enforcement agencies to relax their weed laws.
Late last year, the Fort Worth Police Department announced it would no longer cite or arrest people caught with small amounts of weed because of testing challenges. Fort Worth officers are still documenting who they’re taking marijuana from, but without reliable testing, it’s likely cases won’t be filed.
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