Despite years of harsh criminal enforcement of Oklahoma’s cannabis laws, police officers said they couldn’t tell whether a 9-ton hemp shipment was hemp or not when they arrested two Pawhuska, Oklahoma hemp farmers last month. Yet Osage County district attorneys were confident enough in the law enforcement action to prosecute the men on drug charges anyway. In fact, the prosecutors charged Andrew Ross and David Dirksen before they even tested their Colorado-bound 9-ton cargo. So while Ross and Dirksen await trial, their entire hemp shipment is awaiting THC testing in a Colorado lab.
Oklahoma Prosecutors Mistake Hemp Shipment for “Black Market” Marijuana
On January 9, police pulled over a large tractor-trailer on Main Street in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The stop was for a routine traffic violation, but the situation quickly escalated. Police searched the cargo of the truck, discovering that it contained 18,000 pounds of industrial hemp. Concerned, however, that the shipment was possibly marijuana, not hemp, officers arrested the two men providing security for the shipment, Andrew Ross and David Dirksen, and the big rig’s two drivers, Tadesse Deneke and Farah Warsame.
Today, Andrew Ross and David Dirksen are each out on $40,000 bond. But they still spent a week in jail. The drivers, however, could not afford to secure bonds. They’re still locked up in an Osage County jail.
All four men face serious charges, including “aggravated trafficking of marijuana,” a charge that in Oklahoma carries a sentence of 15 to life. Prosecutors now know the shipment was hemp, not cannabis. But they jumped the gun placing charges, and so painted themselves into a corner trying to put together a criminal case. “They are trying to call this marijuana, when it’s clear to the rest of the sane world that it’s not,” said defense attorney Matt Lyons.
Oklahoma Prosecutors Order THC Tests for Entire 9-Ton Shipment of Industrial Hemp
The district attorney‘s case against the four men charged with trafficking marijuana rests on what lab tests will reveal about the THC content of the hemp. According to Lyons, the 11 samples from the hemp shipment underwent federal testing. Of those samples, just two were very slightly over the 0.3 percent legal limit for THC but outside the test’s error margin. Slightly non-compliant results like that are not uncommon. Different parts of a hemp plant contain more or less THC than other parts, even if, on average, the whole plant contains less than 0.3 percent THC.
Yet the Osage County District Attorney’s Office ordered the truck to be sent to a Colorado testing facility anyway. District attorneys say the 2 samples that tested over the legal limit require testing the entire 9-ton shipment of industrial hemp. The situation would be almost comical if several people’s lives didn’t hang in the balance.
But even if portions of the shipment test above the limit, it’s still a far cry to call bundles of industrial hemp with less than 1 percent THC, “marijuana.” And in all likelihood, a judge is going to throw out the case against Ross, Dirksen, Deneke and Warsame for that exact reason.
2018 Farm Bill Protects Hemp Farmers and Interstate Commerce
In January, Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law. The massive spending package amended, for the first time, the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp and its derivatives are now completely legal and no longer Schedule I substances. Furthermore, the legislation protects interstate hemp commerce and prevents any prohibition of hemp transport or shipment. In fact, the bill says that even if someone does violate a rule related to hemp, they shall not be subject to any criminal enforcement action.
That provision also applies to state and local laws. In Oklahoma, the state’s hemp program calls for the destruction of crops in excess of 0.3 percent THC but at or below 1 percent THC, with no additional penalties. Growers can, however, face fines and sanctions for exceeding the 1 percent cap.