New York (WPTZ) — Jahala Dudley and Buddy Koerner said their first summer spent trying to grow and harvest commercial hemp in Vermont was an eye-opener.
But nothing prepared them for the incident that unfolded over the weekend, which still has them shaking their heads.
The two business partners at Fox Holler Farms in New Haven had just completed the labor-intensive job of processing, packaging and shipping 106 pounds of organically grown hemp flower to a commercial customer in Brooklyn, New York.
They said they dropped off nine boxes at FedEx in Williston on Friday and made clear what it was. Dudley said they’d used FedEx many times before with no problem.
“It’s all legal,” Koerner said. “We did everything by the books.”
The boxes never made it to their destination.
Officers at the New York Police Department’s 75th Precinct in Brooklyn, apparently acting on a tip, seized the shipment, believing it was marijuana.
A representative of the Green Angel CBD shop was then arrested as he arrived to pick it up.
The NYPD appeared pleased with its handling of the case. On Monday, the department posted a photograph on Facebook showing their officers posing with the cache. On Twitter they congratulated the two cops for their “relentless follow-up” that helped confiscate “106 pounds of marijuana that was destined for our city streets.”
Dudley was flabbergasted.
“I’m looking at it. It’s the stuff you see in movies,” Dudley told NBC5. “Like, these two cops are holding our hemp, like it’s an awesome drug bust! This is hemp!”
One detective who Dudley said she spoke with by phone seemed unaware of the distinction between marijuana, which is illegal under federal law, and its cannabis cousin, hemp.
A person looking at packaged hemp “can’t tell the difference” she said. “Genetically it’s a very similar plant. I’m not blaming anyone for that. But the paperwork was there. We’ve had it all tested.”
Under the law, hemp must contain ultra-low levels of the active psychoactive ingredient THC, which gives marijuana users a “high.”
Hemp is, however, prized for its CBD content, which offers a calming effect without intoxication, advocates say.
The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill made commercial hemp production and shipment legal in all 50 states.
Police appeared to ignore the documentation inside each box, Dudley said, including copies of their Vermont state-issued hemp growers’ license along with independent lab testing confirming the hemp had “nondetectable levels” of THC.
The Fox Holler Farms shipment was a particularly high-grade strain of hemp, from Oregon seed, and was expensive to produce, Koerner said. The Brooklyn CBD retailer had agreed to pay $17,500 for the shipment.
On Tuesday, Vermont agriculture leaders said they contacted New York Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball, to make him aware of the situation, hoping he might help sort out the confusion.
So far, the New York Police Department has declined to answer questions about the controversy.
The NYPD spokeswoman, Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, told NBC5 on Tuesday evening only that “the investigation is active and ongoing.”
The department’s Facebook and Twitter postings have generated about 2,000 comments, many of which were critical of the handling of the case.
Dudley said she is hoping the police makes things right.
For now, she said, the perishable hemp shipment remains in police custody.
“We have a limited product, a limited crop,” Dudley said. “This shipment will make or break the farm this year. If this sale goes through, we’ll be OK. If it doesn’t, we don’t break even.”
She added that a Vermont lawyer has advised making one other change going forward — and switch to the U.S. Postal Service.
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