Industrial Hemp Shipment Mistaken For Cannabis Put Prosecutors and Processors in a Stalemate

A felony drug case filed against a Colorado man over a truckload of industrial hemp could prove to be a warning for hemp, cannabis, and CBD business owners across the United States.

In 2017, Eric Jensen shipped 350 pounds of industrial hemp that was grown on his son’s farm in Holly, Colorado. The shipment, with an estimated value of $120,000, was heading to a CBD processor in California.

En route to the Golden State, the FedEx truck holding the shipment went through a distribution center in Liberal, Kansas. Employees noted the strong smell of the hemp shipment, mistook it for marijuana, and notified Kansas Highway Patrol. 

Although the shipment contained documentation from the Colorado Department of Agriculture that the cannabis sativa contained less than 0.3% THC, thus meeting the standards of industrial hemp, Kansas Patrol Lt. Josh Biera seized the shipment, stating, “there was an extremely strong odor of marijuana coming from each of the boxes.”

As a result, Seward County issued a bench warrant for Jensen’s arrest. Jensen contested extradition from Colorado, and the judge ruled in his favor. Seward County could charge Jensen with a $500,000 fine and put him in a Kansas state prison for a minimum of 11.5 years. Charging Jensen would require evidence that the shipment’s THC levels are higher than 0.3%.

Jensen and his lawyers are working to have the case thrown out, as the shipment of hemp is of a federally legal substance. Getting the case thrown out would require proving that the cannabis sativa in the shipment contains less than 0.3% THC. 

Without proper testing of the hemp, neither Kansas prosecutors cannot prove their case, and Jensen cannot prove his innocence.

Seward County says they will not release the evidence out-of-state for lab testing, and stated that Kansas has no criminal lab which can test the industrial hemp for THC levels. The Kansas Department of Agriculture has the capabilities to test the hemp for THC levels, however, the KDA allegedly did not want to be involved in a criminal case. This week, the KDA has agreed to test the hemp, however, a timeline was not provided. 

Jensen’s attorney, Van Hampton, filed a motion for testing of the industrial hemp. Seward County Judge Clint Peterson is denying the request to hold a hearing on the motion to consider a testing order unless Jensen appears in his Kansas courtroom.

Jensen is refusing to leave Colorado, as the case has amounted in a $200,000 bond on his head, and does not want to risk being arrested. Jensen, a fourth-generation farmer, has seen ramifications exceeding his lost shipment and inability to leave the state. He was released from his coaching and school bus driving positions at the local high school as a result of being charged with a high-level felony.

In January 2019, Kansas charged Eric and his brother Ryan Jensen on four drug offenses, including three felonies for this hemp shipment. According to US News, Seward County Assistant Prosecutor Kade Goodwin could not explain why two years passed before the Jensens were charged.

After two years of sitting, the hemp shipment has likely deteriorated past the point of being processable for CBD products.

Brandan Davies, a criminal defense attorney in Overland Park, Kansas, told Kansas City Business Journal that this case should alert anyone in the cannabis industry. The case shows that despite nationwide changes of legislation and attitudes about cannabis and hemp, states like Kansas could halt the progress of these fast-growing industries. 

In a similar instance, Idaho State Police seized nearly 7,000 pounds of industrial hemp in February 2019, arresting the delivery truck driver. Testing of THC levels showed that the shipment contained industrial hemp with less than 0.3% THC. Despite the findings, Idaho still intends to impound the hemp, truck, and trailer.

Industrial hemp is the base crop for CBD products, which is estimated to be a $20 billion industry by 2024. States without a testing facility authorized to determine THC levels could continue to withhold more shipments of industrial hemp, severely slowing down the expected growth of the CBD industry’s profitability.

Featured image via CPR.