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The Cannabis Catch-Up: The Trouble With Hemp


Published November 8, 2019 at 3:50 p.m.

The Great Hemp Bust of 2019 - NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • New York Police Department
  • The Great Hemp Bust of 2019
A recent kerfuffle involving a Vermont hemp farm and the New York Police Department laid bare the evolving understanding of cannabis laws.

In case you haven’t heard, here’s what happened: On November 1, Fox Holler Farm in New Haven dropped off 106 pounds of its organically grown hemp at the FedEx in Williston. Included in the packaging was documentation verifying that the crop had an infinitesimal amount of THC and was therefore legal to grow, sell and ship under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. Local police were even informed of the shipment and verified it was good to go

"It's all legal," grower Buddy Koerner told NBC5. "We did everything by the books."

By Sunday, the nine boxes of hemp had made it to New York City, where someone from Green Angel CBD in Brooklyn went to pick it up. He was arrested on a felony charge, and the product, worth $17,500, was seized.

The NYPD’s 75th Precinct proceeded to crow about the bust, posting a picture on its Facebook page of two officers posing with the “weed.”

“Working with FedEx and other local law enforcement, they were able to confiscate 106 Lbs. of marijuana, and arrest the individual associated with the intended delivery,” the department wrote.

If only it were that simple.

"I'm looking at it. It's the stuff you see in movies," grower Jahala Dudley told NBC5. "Like, these two cops are holding our hemp, like it's an awesome drug bust! This is hemp!"

An unknowing observer "can't tell the difference” between marijuana and hemp, Dudley told the TV station. "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."

The person arrested was eventually released after 33 hours in jail. As of Friday morning, the hemp remained at an NYPD evidence warehouse awaiting the results of further testing, according to Tim Fair, a Vermont cannabis attorney representing the Fox Holler Farm growers.

While he ultimately believes the hemp will be released, Fair said the seizure put in jeopardy a season’s work of worth that the farm believed would end with a $17,500 payout.

“The amount of time it took them to grow this, to harvest this, to dry it, to cure it, to package it and get it all shipped down there — this was a huge undertaking,” Fair told Seven Days. Financially, “it was a make-or-break for our clients and they were terrified they were going to be on the hook for this … You’ve got two small, burgeoning businesses on either side of this transaction.”

Fair said something like this wouldn’t have been a surprise in “Bible-belt, conservative states,” but “we really didn’t expect to have this happen in New York City.”

“You see these district attorneys stopping to prosecute low-level offenses, legalization’s moving forward, yet now we still have a legal commodity being seized and buyers being arrested,” he said. “That just seems like we’re stepping back 10 years.”

“This was not some sketchy thing,” a frustrated Fair continued. “They were in full compliance. So why did this happen?”

He had a guess: “They don’t know the rules, they don’t want to know the rules. This is what’s been good for the last two decades — busting all these potheads. And unfortunately, now, times have changed, and their procedures are going to need to change and catch up as well.”

Here are some other stories we’ve followed recently:

October 28: “Evidence is weak for whether medicinal cannabis treatments can relieve mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and psychosis, and doctors should prescribe them with great caution,” researchers reported in a recent study. [Kate Kelland, Reuters]

October 30: Growers cultivated a record amount of hemp in Vermont this year. How’d that work out for them — and what’s in store for the future of the industry? [Kevin McCallum, Seven Days]

October 31: Australian doctors removed a balloon full of weed from the nose of man who’d stashed the drugs up there 18 years earlier while he was in prison. Everything about this gives me the willies. [Matthew Robinson, CNN]

October 31: Authorities in California seized 10 million pot plants worth $1 billion that had allegedly been grown under the guise that it was legal hemp. [John Cox, the Bakersfield Californian]

November 3: Some Vermont hemp growers are in a “panic” over proposed federal hemp regulations because crops testing with more than 0.3 percent THC would need to be destroyed. Vermont law allows hemp to contain up to 1 percent THC. One Ag Agency official estimated the rule would affect 70 percent of the hemp grown in Vermont. That’s … a lot. [Xander Lander,]

November 3: Hemp harvest is upon us. What do those in the industry have to say about this season in Vermont? [Howard Weiss-Tisman, Vermont Public Radio]

November 5: A California cannabis vlogger and her new husband took bong rips from custom-made pieces on their wedding day. A photographer was on hand and yes, there are pics. [Hannah Frishberg, New York Post]

November 5: A former cannabis lobbyist who now serves as Florida’s Agriculture and Consumer Services commissioner is on a mission to pass aggressive regulations in the state that would ensure CBD products contain what they claim. Nikki Fried worries that the current lax regulations have already done some damage to the industry. [Matt Laslo, Vice News]

November 6: A linebacker for the Green Bay Packers has lawyered up and will contest citations he received for marijuana possession after authorities in Wisconsin allegedly found three blunts and a THC vaping cartridge in his vehicle. [Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

November 8: Speaking of sports: “Former NBA Commissioner David Stern says the league’s ban on marijuana is outdated and should be reconsidered in the next collective bargaining agreement.” [Jabari Young, CNBC]

November 8: Rapper Drake has teamed up with Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth to create a joint venture based in Toronto. He’s the latest celebrity to enter the weed industry. [Alicia Wallace, CNN Business]

November 8: U.S. health officials say there’s been a breakthrough in the vaping-related illness outbreak after a lab identified the same chemical compound, vitamin E acetate, in the lung fluid of 29 patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which announced the findings Friday, recently said the number of patients across the country has exceeded 2,000. There have been 39 deaths nationwide linked to the illness. Vermont has investigated 29 cases and confirmed three; one is pending classification. [Mike Stobbe, Associated Press]

November 8: In honor of Veterans Day, cannabis media company Heady Vermont is giving out free weed to vets and medical marijuana patients. The cannabis has all been donated and is available to those eligible from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the outlet’s offices at 250 Battery Street in Burlington. “We had a lot of first-time growers contributing this year, and many of them don't even use cannabis themselves, but they wanted to contribute,” communications director Kathryn Blume said.

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