Oklahoma Cops Jail Four Men for Transporting Legal Hemp

The first wrinkle in the era of legal hemp comes into focus: Police officers do not appear capable of distinguishing hemp from marijuana.



Police in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, jailed four men and seized $500,000 worth of industrial hemp this week because they believed the hemp to be marijuana and the men to be marijuana traffickers.

Denver's Fox31 reports that the men—a driver and several security escorts—remain in custody and that the Pawhuska police have contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration for assistance in testing the hemp.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer a controlled substance. These four men will likely be freed, and the hemp will hopefully be returned. But the fact that they were arrested at all speaks to the increasingly patchwork nature of cannabis laws across the U.S., and the confusion and damage that system visits on market participants.

Jamie Baumgartner of Colorado, whose Panacea Life Sciences was the intended recipient of the hemp, tells Fox31 that his company ordered the plant from Kentucky, that a manifest on the truck identified the cargo as hemp, and that Panacea Life Sciences' contractors received "pre-clearance from the State of Oklahoma" to transport hemp through the state on its way from Kentucky to Colorado. This should have been enough to ward off police harassment.

But hemp and marijuana are both forms of cannabis, so they look and smell alike. In the months and years ahead, we can expect law enforcement in Prohibition states to hassle hemp companies, sometimes out of an abundance of caution, sometimes out of stupidity, sometimes out of malice.

"I can't tell you how many calls we get [at NORML] about CBD from retailers," Paul Armentano told me for a recent feature on cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic compound contained in both hemp and marijuana plants. "At least once every couple of weeks, we hear from someone raided by local cops for selling CBD products out of a retail space."

A local TV news station in Nashville reported in October that police in Tennessee have already mistakenly cracked down on hemp products, which were legal under state law even before the 2018 Farm Bill passed, because neither officers nor their drug dogs can differentiate between the two plants.

"So, an officer who sees you smoking a rolled cigarette that smells and looks like marijuana—that's enough to take you into custody," attorney Jim Todd told Nashville's NewsChannel5. "This is gonna be a huge problem. A lot of people with hemp are going to possibly get arrested."

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. Aside from the obvious confusion, we may soon see local and state hemp seizure cases involving products that sit just above the THC threshold that federal law now says separates hemp and marijuana. Any product that 0.3 percent (or less) THC is classified legally as hemp; any product that contains more than 0.3 percent is marijuana. A plant product that contains 0.4 percent THC is not going to get you high—the average THC content of marijuana plants in Denver's recreational dispensaries was 19.6 percent in 2017—but a plant with 0.4 percent THC would possibly be illegal under federal law, and allow for asset forfeiture and drug trafficking charges.

We might also see malicious or incompetent batch testing by local cops, or the intentional contamination of evidence. In light of the drug lab scandals in Massachusetts and routine reports of police officers misidentifying legal substances during traffic stops, these are not baseless fears. I mean, if cops in Florida can mistake donut frosting for meth, cops anywhere can—and almost certainly will—mistake a plant that looks and smells a lot like marijuana for marijuana.

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  1. Avoid Oklahoma at all costs. There is nothing worthwhile there and the cops are the worst. Plus, Tony lives there.

    1. It’s prettier than Kansas and less mentally ill than Texas.

      1. >>>It’s prettier than Kansas

        lies and slander

        1. Science has proven that Kansas is literally flatter than a pancake.

          1. Good try, but not quite right. AIR was not a peer-reviewed journal.

            1. Well, I’ve driven through Kansas. I started hallucinating big red car-sized targets on the sides of cows.

          2. The same study also showed that every place on Earth was flatter than the pancake they measured.

      2. Kansas is just one big cornfield, so I grant you that. And my view of Texas is skewed, since I am mostly familiar with Austin and hill country. Austin is pretty damn awesome.

        1. Kansas is just one big grainfield*, so I grant you that. And my view of Texas is skewed, since I am mostly familiar with Austin and hill country. Austin is pretty damn awesome.


          * Corn is only Kansas’s second biggest crop, as measured by acreage**. Wheat is first, by a long shot (7.3 million acres to corn’s 5.4 million), and soy is third, by a relatively slender margin (4.85 million).

          ** As measured by yield, the margin is even larger, since each wheat field can be harvested twice as often as corn.

  2. >>>This should have been enough to ward off police harassment.

    shoulda, but Oklahoma. always a white-knuckle drive through there.

  3. Pigs gotta pig.

  4. If one single American is inconvenienced in the course of enforcing drug law, by god, THAT’S AN INJUSTICE THAT CANNOT STAND, SIR! THAT CANNOT STAND!

    1. makes much more sense in this setting.

  5. Well, cops are fat, stupid, and fat.

  6. . . . sometimes out of an abundance of caution, sometimes out of stupidity, sometimes out of malice.

    Sometimes there’s stupidity involved, always there’s malice. Never caution. Marijuana isn’t dangerous to anyone to there’s no need for caution ‘to get it off the streets to protect the children’ and there’s really nothing safer than a large marijuana bust for a cop. Safer than a jaywalking stop.

  7. We can see his pen. WHERE IS HIS PHONE?

  8. “…that a manifest on the truck identified the cargo as hemp, and that Panacea Life Sciences’ contractors received “pre-clearance from the State of Oklahoma” to transport hemp through the state…”

    Was the pre-clearance documentation presented to the cops and ignored or Them were so excited Them jizzed all over it and made it unreadable?

    FFS the truckers should have known not to travel through a state which has “Okie From Muskogee” as the state song.

  9. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer a controlled substance.

    That reminds me, I’m on a local environmental committee, and we’re planing this year’s community garden.

  10. They really need to sue the cops after this is over.

  11. Maybe it was a nice truck. Maybe they thought they would get to keep it, under current asset seizure practices. Maybe they thought they could seize it and sell it and keep the money. Ah yes, corruption at work in the good old USA. Not like down in Mexico, though. Much less violent up here. See the difference?

  12. As I understand things, they’re stuck in jail until the lab work comes back, and that’s being held up by the shutdown.

    1. that has to be horse puckey. This was a STATE bust… and the STATES are not “shut down” though most functions of most states SHOULD be shut down….. permanently.

      No way there is not one crime lab anywhere in the Midwest that can/would do the testing.

  13. Alright, since no one has seen the local news for this story: the semi truck ran a red light in a town that has basically one stop light, lol. Secondly, the cops did not have a way to field test THC content. Their test was a yes/no test for THC content, so since the hemp tested positive then the local police had no other way to distinguish hemp from marijuana. Finally, while the shipping manifest said it was hemp, I seriously doubt any cop is going to just take your word for it.

    Long story short: the police are operating under the laws they’re dealt because there is still a ton of grey area in hemp/marijuana laws which is exactly what the story was highlighting. As much as we all like to suspect the small town Okie cops as being crooked, I doubt they really had many options given the rules they must operate under.

    1. There is no legal mandate to enforce immoral laws in the first place. Cops constantly claim there have to “do their job”, but their job entails oodles of discretion, and isn’t a necessary function in the first place (that is to say, they are always free to find morally justifiable, productive employment rather than insisting that their chosen profession of shitheelery is “just following orders”).

      1. Interesting. So you’re comparing the ability of a cop to use discretion about not signaling a lane change versus not arresting a potential semi-truck load of a federally-illegal narcotic?! I mean, I don’t care what they do with marijuana legislation, but I don’t feel the cops can just discover that and “let it slide”. Once the grey areas in the legal status of hemp and marijuana are addressed, this will cease to be much of a problem. I certainly don’t want cops using professional discretion as to how much of an illegal substance constitutes an infraction.

        1. Marijuana is non-toxic and is not a narcotic.

  14. If the cops defense, Donut frosting IS meth to a cop!

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  16. This article has too many holes in it to make any sense short of fulfilling Reason’s residential demand for anti-police drama.

    If you’re driving from Kentucky to Colorado, what are you smoking to make you think going through Oklahoma is optimal? It’s not even on the way!

    “So, an officer who sees you smoking a rolled cigarette that smells and looks like marijuana?that’s enough to take you into custody,” attorney Jim Todd told Nashville’s NewsChannel5. “This is gonna be a huge problem. A lot of people with hemp are going to possibly get arrested.”

    Who in their right mind would smoke a hemp cigarette?

    Denver’s Fox31 reports that the men?a driver and several security escorts?remain in custody

    If all you’re doing is transporting $500,000 worth of industrial hemp, and not as suspected upwards of $44,000,000 in recreational marijuana, then why do you need 3 security guards? That in itself is highly unusual.

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  18. .3% THC?
    A completely arbitrary and capricious number.
    No rationale or logic in coming up with that number.
    There is no Freedom with a .3% arbitrary number to determine criminality or legality.

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