Police & D.A. Confusion About Hemp Law Could Cost Local Business Owner His Livelihood

Police & D.A. Confusion About Hemp Law Could Cost Local Business Owner His Livelihood

A local business owner says he’ll soon be forced to shutter his thriving CBD company, after the Brooklyn District Attorney declined to dismiss charges stemming from a massive shipment of hemp mistakenly seized by the NYPD.

Oren Levy, a licensed recovery specialist and owner of Green Angel CBD, says the confusion started last month, when the NYPD gloated on Twitter of intercepting 106 pounds of marijuana “destined for our city streets.” In reality, Levy says, the cops unwittingly confiscated a massive shipment of hemp he had ordered legally from a Vermont farm.

Upon learning of the apparent misunderstanding, Oren’s brother, Ronan Levy, went to the 75th precinct on November 2nd to retrieve the product. Instead, he was handcuffed and charged with felony marijuana possession.

After the brothers spread word of the error to the press—and produced paperwork backing up their claims—Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office signaled that the charges would be dismissed. But when the pair arrived in court on Monday, they learned that the charges had not be dropped. No reason was given, and Judge Raymond Rodriguez ordered them to return to court on May 29th.

Authorities offered no indication that the $30,000 hemp shipment would be returned anytime soon.

“This is definitely going to put me out of business,” Oren Levy told Gothamist following the hearing. “I’m borrowing money to take care of this, because they can’t just say, ‘You know what, we made a mistake.'”

“It’s legal, so why shouldn’t they give it back?” he added. “They’re playing with me at this point.”

Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, would not comment on the record about the case. Over email, he pointed Gothamist to section 21 of the New York Public Health Law, which classifies “marihuana” as “all parts of the plant of the genus Cannabis.”

That definition would extend to hemp, a strain of Cannabis that’s widely used in CBD products, among other household goods and foods, and which does not contain enough of the psychoactive compound in marijuana to get users stoned.

While New York’s CBD industry remains mired in a regulatory grey area, few drug experts have interpreted the current legal framework as banning all forms of hemp.

“My understanding is that hemp is legal in New York,” said Anthony Posada, supervising attorney of the Community Justice Unit at the Legal Aid Society. “We’re talking about a product that, as far as state law is concerned, is legal.”

As part of the Federal Farm Bill passed last year, the federal government removed the crop from its list of controlled substances. Cultivating industrial hemp was legalized for research purposes in New York in 2015. A bill approved in the state legislature earlier this year, which is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature, would allow any farmer in the state to grow the crop.

Levy says it shouldn’t matter, since he has a letter from the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture certifying his product as legal hemp, which may be legally transferred across state lines under federal law.

But according to a local law enforcement source, the lack of clarity on the state level has led to the belief that cannabis containing any amount of THC—even in extremely low concentrations—is contraband. Even if the NYPD wanted to draw a distinction between hemp and marijuana, their current testing equipment cannot differentiate between the two.

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Legal experts say that the cops’ equating of different Cannabis strains is wrong—but will likely continue to sow confusion, at least until the prohibition is fully lifted.

“This underscores the need for full marijuana legalization under a social justice and equity framework,” said Posada, the Legal Aid Society attorney. “If it were properly regulated, police wouldn’t be posting on social media boasting of making an arrest for something that is, by all intents and purposes, legal.”