Hemp Is Legal. What If Cops Don't Care?
The farm bill Congress passed in 2018 brought an end to the federal prohibition of hemp, a variety of cannabis that contains almost no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that gets you high. At the time, many would-be hemp farmers anticipated a bright future of legally growing the plant for use in paper products, rope, construction materials, clothing, and nutritional supplements. Jason Amatucci, founder of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, predicted to Reason that the farm bill would "help to clarify any legal gray areas that federal and state agencies have towards hemp and their end consumer products."
A year later, the hemp industry is withering on the vine for want of clarity. After the farm bill was signed into law, Montana-based Big Sky Scientific LLC was transporting a 6,701-pound hemp shipment from Oregon to Colorado when the truck was stopped by Idaho State Police. The driver attempted to explain that he was not carrying marijuana, but Idaho state law classifies all parts of the cannabis plant as marijuana, making no distinction for hemp.
With the shipment confiscated and the driver charged with felony trafficking, Big Sky tried unsuccessfully to regain its product. Idaho argued that the shipment was not federally protected because Oregon had not received federal approval for its own rules.
This was sadly not an isolated event. In November 2019, New York–based Green Angel CBD had a 106-pound hemp shipment stopped twice by law enforcement. Police in Williston, Vermont, were the first to inspect the product being transported via FedEx Freight. They decided against confiscating it and allowed the truck to continue.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) was less accommodating. Officers in the Empire State ignored the shipping documents and concluded based on looks and a possibly outdated field test that the substance was marijuana. The NYPD asked Green Angel to pick up the shipment at the station and then arrested the owner's brother when he arrived. Police charged him with possession. Then the NYPD bragged about the bust in now-deleted social media posts.
While the charges against Green Angel have since been dropped, the company is still seeking the return of its shipment and has filed suit against the NYPD. Additionally, attempts are now being made to clarify if hemp is truly legal in New York and to differentiate licensing requirements for farmers versus sellers.
This is not what hemp advocates hoped to see after the repeal of federal prohibition. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported in December that hemp farmers are increasingly falling victim to crop theft. Law enforcement should be protecting the rights of producers and sellers in the nascent hemp industry, not trying to destroy it.