Sheriff Lunceford: Smoking hemp could lead to criminal charges

Published 5:12 pm Thursday, December 20, 2018

Hemp and hemp-based products are on the rise in the nation as stores spring up across the area.
One of the reasons that hemp is gaining in popularity is due to the plant containing a high level of CBD, a compound that many people believe has multiple medicinal properties.
CBD can be ingested in many ways and one of those forms is through smoking the hemp plant itself.
Companies like the Gold CBD offers hemp that is rolled in cigarette form in what they call a “Hemp Stick”. When smoked, hemp, which is legal, gives off a smell very similar to marijuana. Hemp, since it comes from the same plant family as marijuana, also looks a lot like its illegal cousin.
With its similarities, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said that problems could arise if someone who is smoking hemp in public is stopped by an officer. One of the scenarios could be a traffic stop where an individual is smoking the hemp in their vehicle, and Lunceford said that the officer wouldn’t have many options.
“It looks like marijuana, so what is going to happen is the officer is going to charge them with possession of marijuana because it does contain THC,” said Lunceford. “The labs will tell us if it rises to the level of THC that surpasses what’s in hemp. It is the level of THC that determines if it’s hemp or marijuana.”
THC is a compound found in both marijuana and hemp. The THC compound is what gives marijuana users a “high” feeling. Marijuana can have a THC concentration between 15 to 40 percent while hemp’s concentration is below 0.3 percent. According to state law, “Industrial hemp” are plants and plant parts of the genera cannabis that do not contain a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration more than three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) on a dry mass basis.”
Lunceford went on to say that some members of law enforcement worry that marijuana users will use hemp as a way to get out of trouble when caught noting that deputies do not have a way to test for marijuana on the scene.
“It has to be that way because if it isn’t, marijuana users will always say it is hemp,” said Lunceford.
“It looks like marijuana and smells like marijuana,” added Lunceford. “If it walks and quacks like a duck, it is a duck as far as law enforcement is concerned, and we determine whether or not it rises to the THC level of marijuana.”
A local criminal attorney did say that if a law enforcement officer smells smoke that smells like marijuana then they would have reasonable suspicion to search the individual’s property. If the officers did find something that looked like marijuana, in their training experience, then they may end up charging someone with possession of marijuana. Once the lab test came back that proved the individual was in possession of hemp and not marijuana, the charges would be dropped. However, the person would still have to make a bond and possibly hire a lawyer.
Hemp and its sellers have had some run-ins with law enforcement this past year in Tennessee. Early in 2018 in Rutherford County, businesses that sold CBD oil and hemp were padlocked by the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office due to businesses allegedly selling candies that contained a derivative of marijuana, according to an article by the Murfreesboro Daily News. It was later found out that the candies contained CBD derived from hemp and not marijuana. There were 21 individuals indicted in what the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office called “Operation Candy Crush.” According to the Murfreesboro Dailey News article, all charges were later dropped.
In a statement regarding Sheriff Lunceford’s comments, David Saylor, who owns CBD Plus USA stores in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky with a new store recently opening in Elizabethton, said, “CBD Plus USA offers products derived from the hemp plant. All of our products that are for sale have less than the legal limit of THC that comply with State and Federal Law. Every product is offered with third-party testing. Every customer in the City of Elizabethton will be provided with a copy of the third-party lab test.
“We look forward to working with the sheriff’s department, as we jointly serve the citizens of Elizabethton and Carter County, to obtain products that will allow people to experience a better quality of life in a safe manner with legally compliant products that have been verified by an independent, third-party service.”
CBD Plus USA sells many different types of CBD product including the “Hemp Stix” cigarettes that were mentioned above. It is also important to note that hemp and CBD oil does not have any mind-altering properties like found in marijuana.

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