South Carolina traffic stop underscores problems of transportation protocols for police, hemp industry

Cannabis products seized in December in Wellford, South Carolina (Photo courtesy of Wellford Police Department)

Police in South Carolina are saying suspicious behavior by drivers, unprofessional shipping practices and unsatisfactory paperwork caused them to seize a 183-pound shipment of hemp in December that they thought was marijuana.

But the Texas hemp distributor who bought the hemp and the North Carolina supplier are saying the police aren’t being truthful – about the shipping practices or the way the police treated the drivers.

The shipment from Bio Lab Global, a licensed cultivator, processor and distributor of hemp products based in Monroe, North Carolina, was intercepted and taken into police custody on Dec. 14 in Wellford, South Carolina.

The load was en route to Texas, transported by two men hired by Glen McDonald of Houston-based hemp distributor GM Tobacco, which purchased the hemp.

The shipment contained CBD and CBG pre-rolls and flower, according to McDonald.

Police: Transport looked suspicious

The men, driving a Toyota SUV, were stopped on Interstate 85 for weaving in and out of traffic lanes and speeding, according to Wellford’s police chief, David Green.

Green told Hemp Industry Daily that in addition to the “overwhelming smell of what we believed to be narcotics,” the driver and passenger were acting “skittish and nervous.”

The officer asked how much marijuana was being transported and the driver said the load was all hemp. So the officer asked for the paperwork.

“They gave two pieces of paper for the entire 183 pounds, and it looked like some kids printing off some stuff from the internet,” Green said.

“They were not very professional. It gave all of the lab results for the hemp but when asked, ‘Where does the paperwork go to?’ all they could say was, ‘This is all that they gave us.’

“They couldn’t tell us which containers contained what hemp. It was just not a very well-put-together plan.”

The driver also said he didn’t know who sold the hemp or where it was picked up. He said was given a number to call when he arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and to pick it up at an “undisclosed location.”

“Shady, shady, shady,” said Green, the police chief.

According to GM Tobacco’s McDonald, police threatened the drivers with prison, then interrogated them for hours.

Once back at the police department, Green said, he was able to reach the supplier, who verified that the drivers paid with a brick of cash.

According to Austin Diggs, president of Bio Lab Global, the drivers had certificates of analysis (COAs) for all their cargo.

Diggs told Hemp Industry Daily that when he learned of the product seizure, he emailed Green some Bio Lab Global paperwork, including the company’s business license, its North Carolina hemp program processor and cultivator licenses and all the product COAs.

“The interstate transportation of hemp is legal, and (police) cannot intercede regardless of their laws and regulations,” Diggs said.

The hemp was sealed and locked in barrels, according to Diggs.

“I don’t really know how they expect hemp to be transported in this industry,” he said.

Green disputes Diggs’ account.

The police chief said the product packaging was not appropriate for shipping across state lines “and definitely not for human consumption.”

THC tested high

The Wellford police fingerprinted the drivers and took photos of them. The police said they did not arrest the drivers on drug charges, opting to keep the product for testing first.

Green sent samples to a state lab for testing to confirm that the shipment was hemp and not marijuana.

Within 24 hours, the lab reported that approximately 80% of the load was over the federal THC limit of 0.3%.

So far, he said, no product has been destroyed.

“We will try to return what has tested below the legal limit,” Green told Hemp Industry Daily.

“Only the product that is over the legal limit will be destroyed at some point.”

Laura Drotleff can be reached at [email protected]

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4 comments on “South Carolina traffic stop underscores problems of transportation protocols for police, hemp industry
  1. Pat Jack on

    police chief Green is claiming 80% of the seized industrial hemp is hot, he does not specify “D9 ONLY”, or “total THC” hot.

    North Carolina tests for “total THC”, that’s in their state law. The COA and docs on the hemp that are purported to have been available for the hemp were “total THC” COA, if indeed the hemp was grown in North Carolina.

    1. USDA interim law, total THC, not Green’s jurisdiction to start with.

    2. Is South Carolina state level hemp law total THC, no it is not. If the North Carolina hemp had COA which showed it to be total THC compliant, it is extremely unlikely that the D9 in the samples exceeded South Carolina’s D9 ONLY testing requirement. As well, South Carolina is operating at this time under 2014 Farm Bill pilot exemption status, legacy D9 ONLY status, as they have no USDA approved state hemp plan. So double protection there, Green’s hands are firmly tied in D9 ONLY land.

    3. Does South Carolina have a USDA approved state hemp plan, no it does not, if it did, then the police chief could use that to potentially charge and refer for prosecution if it was total THC hot, but SC does not have a USDA approved hemp plan, (legacy D9 ONLY by default under the 2014 Farm Bill exemption).

    So Green’s claim that 80% of the hemp is hot might only be based on total THC. I doubt some .3%+ HOT D9 ONLY had docs/COA available that were forged.

    I have never seen or heard of any hemp sample that was total THC compliant having in excess of .3% D9, (duhhhrrrr).

    That no charges have been filed, and Green says he will return that hemp which he claims is in compliance leads any person to believe Green has no criminal case and is trying to avoid looking absolutely and completely ridiculous, violent, and criminal in being an accessory during and after the fact to a multiple aggravated kidnapping and aggravated grand theft auto.

    So this police chief is calling it hot most likely because it is total THC hot, for which he has no legal standing.

    Reply
    • David Green on

      I am Chief Green and I did not charge the two guy because we are a forward thinking department and believe that jailing people is not always the answer. I will talk to any one who questions what we did and why. Please call any time my cell 864 431 5285 thank you.

      Reply
      • Eric Pike on

        Pat,

        You confuse the narrative- Total THC- (DELTA 9 & THC-A). When being case specific you should understand that the local reader is not well informed on COA’s and the details that a Certificate Of Analysis provides.

        I have a 25 yr professional experience is the Cannabis/ Hemp space. What we continue to see is devil is in the details and if we provide the full informative position. We can best move the landscape forward, do you agree?

        I also understand Chief Green’s point, which leads back to why this is happening. Logistics play a huge part in this industries growth, we need to support the efforts with law enforcement and create logistical standards.

        How are they suppose to tell Cannabis from Hemp from just a few pieces of paper? We have had several similar situations with other colleagues and we received our product back. They even took the picture when we got our material back. There are transportation companies working to fix these growing issues.

        Here is a very informative description, from a legal and federal stand point, that I found to be spot on and very easy to understand –

        Total THC

        “Total THC” refers to the legal argument that in order for a particular cannabis sample to meet the definition of “hemp” set forth in the 2018 Farm Bill both the ?9 THC and the THCA concentrations must be taken into consideration. Specifically, in order to determine whether a specific hemp sample is legally compliant the ?9 THC levels in a hemp sample must be added to 87.7% of the THCA levels in a hemp sample. (Note: The short reason for this is that ?9 THC is only 87.7% of the molecular weight of THCA. I’ll explain it in more detail, below.) If the sum of these two figures does not exceed 0.3% then the hemp sample is lawful. If it exceeds 0.3% it is unlawful.

        For example, if a hemp sample has ?9 THC concentrations of 0.10% and THCA concentrations of 0.20%, then the “total THC” is 0.10% + (0.20% x 87.70%) = 0.28%. Under the Total THC view, this sample is compliant. However, a sample with the same ?9 THC concentrations of 0.10% and THCA concentrations of 0.30% is not compliant because it has “total THC” concentrations of 0.10% + (0.30% x 87.70%) = 0.36%. In this second example, neither the ?9 THC nor the THCA levels exceed 0.3%; however, added together they exceed (slightly) the legal limit of 0.3%. Therefore, the sample is unlawful “hot” hemp.

        The Arguments in Support of Total THC

        There are several arguments in support of the Total THC position. I will describe them here and then respond in seriatim (in serial order), below. I should note that in coming to understand these arguments over the past several months, which I have attempted to present in as compelling a manner as possible, I spoke with a number of very smart, impassioned people. Although these arguments, if generally accepted, would do great harm to the hemp industry, no one with whom I spoke had bad faith or any apparent ill motive towards the hemp industry. In fact, most are participants in it. To me, this is concerning. If the very people whose livelihoods would be negatively impacted by widespread adoption of these arguments are seduced by them, they are very powerful tools in the hands of those who would use them to subvert the industry or twist it to their benefit.

        The first argument in support of the “total THC” position is scientific. Under this argument, THCA is composed of ?9 THC. Specifically, it is composed of 87.7% ?9 THC. Another way of thinking about it is that THCA “contains” ?9 THC in concentrations up to 87.7%. Therefore, in order to obtain an accurate reading of the ?9 THC levels in a hemp sample the ?9 that is part of the THCA must be counted in addition to the ?9 THC that is not bound up in THCA molecules. The reason THCA must be counted is because the 2018 Farm Bill definition of “hemp” is the cannabis plant and “any part” of it, “including…. acids… with a ?9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent”. Since one of the plant’s acids (ie, THCA) is composed of 87.7% ?9 THC, it must be included in the equation.

        The second argument is based on one of the particular uses of hemp, namely, inhaling it. This is done by smoking or vaping the hemp, both of which heat it. According to this argument, THCA represents “available” or “potential” ?9 THC. If a hemp sample is decarboxylated by heating it (as when smoking or vaping), then up to 87.7% of the THCA is chemically converted to ?9 THC. Congress intended to limit ?9 THC to 0.3% by setting that as the legal limit. In order to do this, some ways of using hemp, such as smoking or vaping, must be taken into consideration. The only way to ensure that ?9 THC levels do not exceed 0.3% for all users is to factor in the ?9 THC levels that are “contained” within the THCA molecule. Therefore, the potential ?9 THC in a sample must be taken into consideration by either using the equation I discussed above, or by using the GC testing method since it heats up and decarboxylates the sample.

        The third argument in support of the “total THC” position is statutory. Specifically, this argument points to the language used in the 2018 Farm Bill that requires a state choosing to regulate hemp to submit a plan for approval by the Secretary of the USDA that includes, among other things, “a procedure for testing, using post-decarboxylation or other similarly reliable methods, ?9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration levels of hemp produced in the State or territory of the Indian tribe[.]” The argument is that the statute requires a state to use a “post decarboxylation” method [1] or a “similarly reliable” method that takes total THC into consideration. (“It’s right there in the statute” is a common phrase I hear.)

        The Total THC Arguments Are Flawed

        Despite how compelling the above arguments may appear to be, they are all flawed and cannot withstand careful analysis.

        First, the so-called “scientific argument” is anything but scientific. Asserting that THCA “contains” or is “composed of” ?9 THC is to misunderstand basic chemistry. THCA is a separate and distinct molecule from ?9 THC. It does not “contain” ?9 THC any more than wood “contains” ash or a caterpillar “contains” a butterfly. Certainly, burned wood can transform into ash (and other compounds) and a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly; however, arguing that wood “contains” ash and caterpillars “contain” butterflies is to enter into the realm of teleological philosophy, not science. The same is true for THCA and ?9 THC. The fact is that decarboxylation, a chemical process, renders a THCA molecule into a ?9 THC molecule by changing it: a carboxyl group is removed and carbon dioxide is released. In other words, ?9 THC is not Han Solo trapped in carbonite by Jabba the Hutt, waiting to be released by his Rebel friends. A better analogy is Harrison Ford himself, who was transformed by Hollywood into Han Solo, an entirely different (though perhaps similar) person with different attributes.

        Additionally, it is not even entirely accurate to say that THCA decarboxylates into 87.7% ?9 THC. The most accurate statement is that ?9 THC is 87.7% of the molecular weight of THCA. The decarboxylation process is not particularly efficient. In the best of conditions, only 75% of THCA can be converted into ?9 THC. Usually, the percentage is much less. For this reason, and according to Leafly, “There is no official industry standard for calculating the total THC of a cannabis product and different producers and testing facilities calculate it in different ways.” So, even if the scientific argument for the total THC position was valid, simply using an equation that added 87.7% of the THCA concentrations to the ?9 THC concentrations is inaccurate and greatly inflates the actual “total THC” (or total potential THC) in a hemp plant.

        This leads to the second argument, which is that some hemp is inhaled by smoking or vaping and so the total “potential” (or total “available”) THC should be taken into consideration. The fact is that smoking and vaping hemp are both highly inefficient ways of decarboxylating THCA. Up to 70% of the “available THC” is lost in the process of smoking hemp due to pyrolysis (thermal decomposition) and side-stream smoke. Although vaporizing is more efficient, up to 50% of the “available THC” is lost. Thus, neither the mathematical method (using 87.7% as a multiple) nor an efficient decarboxylation testing method (such as GC) accurately capture the actual ?9 THC that a hemp smoker or vaper receives. Both methods greatly inflate the amount. And, of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the fact that smoking or vaping hemp remain relatively novel. Most hemp is processed into oils or industrial products and is not decarboxylated. Why should hemp biomass that is destined to become CBD oil be subjected to decarboxylation testing for compliance when it will never be decarboxylated?

        Finally, the third argument, which posits that measuring “total THC” is mandated by the statute, is flawed by reference to the plain language of the statute itself, which contemplates testing for ?9 THC concentrations using a post-decarboxylation method or another similarly reliable method. In other words, the statute contemplates that a state will have two options for testing ?9 THC levels in a hemp strain: (1) a “post decarboxylation” method, or (2) a non-post decarboxylation method, provided that it is a “similarly reliable” method for testing ?9 THC. Setting aside the fact that “post decarboxylation” is not actually a testing method (see footnote 1, below), HPLC is a highly reliable and scientifically approved method of testing for ?9 THC. It is, in fact, the most reliable method.

        So, rather than supporting the argument that the statute requires a “post decarboxylation” method (presumably, GC), the plain language of the statute actually supports the opposite conclusion: that a state plan to regulate hemp can employ either a post-decarboxylation or a non-post decarboxylation method, provided that the latter is reliable. For reasons I assert below, it is vitally important for the USDA and the states to support farmers by adopting HPLC for compliance testing, a highly reliable method that is authorized by the statute.

        The fact is that the argument for total THC by reference to the statute fails by the statute itself, which does not use the terms “total available” or “total potential” THC. Rather, the 2018 Farm Bill uses the term “delta-9 THC”. It would have been easy enough for Congress to use these terms (or even simply “THC”) rather than “delta-9” had they intended for THCA be a factor in determining the legal status of a hemp plant. Yet, they did not use these terms. Consequently, the concentrations of THCA in a hemp plant are irrelevant to its legal status.

        Adopting Total THC is Bad Policy

        Aside from legal considerations, the reason that this issue is important is because widespread adoption of the total THC position would be harmful to the hemp industry. In particular, it would harm hemp farmers. Requiring total THC concentrations to remain within 0.3%, rather than just limiting ?9 THC, severely limits the hemp strains a farmer can grow. Growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) is difficult enough. Limiting the strains a farmer can grow places an undue and unnecessary burden on an already difficult activity.

        Moreover, as states are beginning to submit their proposed regulatory plans under the 2018 Farm Bill to the USDA, the ones that take the total THC position, and in particular that require GC testing for compliance, place their farmers in a worse economic position than farmers in states who do not take this position and do not require GC compliance testing.

        As a simple example, consider farmers in the fictional state of Xtucky, which requires hemp to be tested using GC and thus takes the total THC position. These farmers will compete in the market against farmers in the fictional state of Zarolina, that does compliance testing using HPLC and does not take THCA levels into consideration. The Xtucky farmers are constrained by the hemp strains they can use, while the farmers in Zarolina are not. Consequently, the Zarolina farmers will have a competitive edge in the market with more varieties to sell. They will also more easily find strains and phenotypes that work in their particular environments. And, of course, the Xtucky farmers will soon be competing with farmers in the international market, including farmers whose countries do not take the total THC view. There is no compelling reason to hamper hemp farmers in this way, particularly when the legal arguments used to support this position are flawed.

        Conclusion

        We all know the old saying that, “the Devil is in the details.” This is a good phrase to keep in mind as hemp regulations begin to emerge. A legal position that seems self-evident or even seductive may be anything but when analyzed under the proverbial microscope. Of the emerging positions, “total THC” is particularly fraught with Devils. Don’t be tempted.

        Reply
        • Pat Jack on

          We can live by the Devil’s rules, bow down to violent tyranny … or not. The knowledge that one is literally whipped and oppressed does not mean we should avoid pointing out barbarism and ultra violence and criminality perpetrated in the government’s and big corporation’s “war on drugs” targeting cannabis and hemp for so many decades.

          A huge amount of very real suffering and death has occurred at the hands of a very violent government; no amount of word-smithing can mitigate any of that to any degree.

          Reply

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