Oklahoma has a popular medical marijuana program, and considering that cannabis is already available there less than a year after voters legalized it, the state is something of a model for how to pull off that feat. Oklahoma was also one of the states to establish a pilot program to allow its farmers to grow industrial hemp, even before the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp production, sales, and distribution legal nationwide.
For these reasons, you could almost fool yourself into thinking that Oklahoma is cannabis-friendly, or at least hemp-friendly. And it might be the case, except for the fact that Oklahoma also has police.
Hemp Fought the Law, and the Law Won
Prosecutors and police officers in the Sooner State are apparently hell-bent on sending four men to prison on drug-trafficking charges. The crime? Ferrying through their state what the accused swear is hemp — but what the law insists, against all reason and against testing data, is marijuana.
This case and another in Idaho — where state police seized another tractor-trailer full of what the shipping manifest says is 7,000 pounds of hemp on the grounds that it, too, is in fact marijuana — reveal a massive problem with the nascent American hemp trade, which both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have touted as a great new thing.
That problem is, in a word, cops. Cops could choose to upend the entire industry if shipments can’t get through certain states without running the risk of seizure. For the reasons listed above, the men running their hemp from McConnell’s Kentucky to a processor in Colorado chose to go through Oklahoma, believing it would be safer—that, and a phone conversation with state police in Kansas and Nebraska, who told them point-blank that they’d be arrested if they tried to drive hemp through their states, according to Tulsa World.
But now, with Oklahoma, Idaho and who knows how many other states seeming no-go zones for hemp, there is a vast moat in between hemp-producing states and some of their potential market and an enormous disincentive for any entrepreneurs to attempt to test the rules.
A Murky Future
In the Idaho case, the company in question, Big Sky Scientific, has sued the Idaho State Police for the release and return of its product. According to the Associated Press, the company is also pushing for an apology.
The US government classifies “hemp” as cannabis sativa with 0.3 percent or less of THC. Anything with more THC is considered legally marijuana, and thus subject to state and federal drug-control laws. Hemp is legal to grow in all 50 states under the 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump.
In Oklahoma, after a field search, prosecutors recently sent the 9,000-pound shipment for testing. According to daily paper Tulsa World, they are pushing for marijuana trafficking charges — which could mean decades in prison — after one of 11 samples taken from the load tested at 0.5 percent THC, with a margin of error of one-tenth.
Most marijuana, or at least most marijuana that anyone who uses marijuana would want anything to do with, tests at 15 percent THC or more. So in other words, plant material that is 30 times weaker than cannabis that would not qualify for shelf space in Oklahoma dispensaries could mean the end of an interstate hemp industry, despite laws on the books that allow hemp that exceeds the 0.3 percent limit to be punished with nothing more than an administrative penalty.
Both the hemp producer in Kentucky and the company where it was to be processed in Colorado are in good standing with the necessary licenses, according to Tulsa World.
Somehow, the situation is even worse in Idaho, which borders several states where recreational marijuana is legal. There cops told the AP that “anything with THC” can be seized in that state, which means any hemp at all is subject to seizure.
From a layman’s perspective, these are weak cases. The individuals involved made no attempt to hide what they were doing and don’t appear to have criminal records. This is not exactly El Chapo-level stuff.
And from the hemp industry’s perspective, these developments are disasters that place a giant chilling effect on what was promised to be a new era for American hemp.
TELL US, how do you think state police should treat the hemp industry?