In 2018, the federal government took several steps to legalize the manufacture and distribution of industrial hemp, the part of the cannabis plant that only contains trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component) and which has a number of industry uses from food to clothing to building materials. Unfortunately, thanks to bureaucracy in the rulemaking process, there remains a fair amount of confusion that leaves drivers and carriers that ship hemp from state-to-state vulnerable to legal trouble.
As noted by the Commercial Carrier Journal, drivers face potential criminal action if they navigate through a state that doesn’t have clear hemp rules in place that align with the Farm Bill of 2018. If a state law does not allow hemp, our Los Angeles hemp lawyers would advise farmers and carriers to map their routes accordingly.
There are published cases of at least half a dozen drivers over the last 18 months being arrested and charged with felony counts of marijuana trafficking and distribution. There are also many cases of drivers hauling hemp that is mistaken for marijuana.
Among some of these cases:
- A 39-year-old driver in Texas was arrested by the by a state trooper for hauling some 3,350 pounds of product authorities mistook for marijuana. He was jailed for nearly a month on federal marijuana trafficking, his haul seized. The man was later released, but only after state lab test results concluded the substance was hemp – not marijuana. The stipulation being that hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC. Texas is still in the process of creating regulation for hemp transportation and farming.
- The New York Police Department confiscated more than 100 pounds of what they believed to be marijuana and arrested the driver on marijuana trafficking charges. The officers tested the plant material at the scenes and the tests reportedly came back positive. However, defense lawyers say police used an outdated testing method. More in-depth testing proved it was hemp.
- A trucker from Oregon on his way to Colorado last year was arrested by Idaho officials who stopped him at a weigh station and crowed the 7,000 pounds of plant material seized amounted to the “biggest drug trafficking bust in state history.” In reality, what the driver was hauling was hemp, as proven later by tests – a substance that had just been made legal by the 2018 Farm Bill. However, because Idaho hadn’t yet changed its laws pursuant to the federal law, transport of hemp through that state was still illegal. He and two other truckers arrested under similar circumstances faced up to five years in prison. They ultimately had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors and their sentences suspended for time-served, but they will have to serve two years of unsupervised probation and pay more than $5,000 in fees. One driver’s cannabis company employer is now suing the state.
Part of the problem with law enforcement, in addition to possible outdated testing methods, is that the plant looks and smells virtually indistinguishable from high-THC-concentrated marijuana. This makes sense because both are cannabis plants.
Although the intent of the 2018 farm bill is to assure unfettered transport of hemp, carriers and truckers may not want to take chances while some of these matters are still pending at the state level, particularly as courts in a few of these cases have sided with the state. It’s generally advisable for companies that haul hemp across state lines to verify the state laws in every state through which their load will be traveling. Carry a copy of the grower’s license so you are assured the product was legally grown – and you can prove it.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Hauling hemp, though technically legal, still comes with risk — for now, Sept. 27, 2019, By Matt Cole, Commercial Carrier Journal