What to Know
- Th DA is planning to drop all charges in a NYC case that spotlighted how similarities between legal hemp and marijuana can cause confusion
- Ronen Levy was arrested after going to a police station to collect 106 pounds plants that were seized during shipping from a Vermont farm
- Police said a field test came back positive for marijuana, but those tests often can't distinguish legal hemp from pot
Prosecutors are planning to drop all charges in a New York City case that spotlighted how similarities between legal hemp plants and marijuana can cause confusion.
The Brooklyn district attorney's office said Tuesday that Ronen Levy's felony marijuana possession case will likely be dismissed Dec. 2.
Levy was arrested Nov. 2 after going to a police station to collect 106 pounds of funky, green plants that were seized during shipping from a Vermont farm. They were headed to his brother's CBD shop.
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The Levys said the plants were legal hemp used for extracting CBD. The Vermont farm that grew the plants and the Brooklyn shop that ordered them insisted they're actually industrial hemp, and perfectly legal.
Police said a field test came back positive for marijuana, but those tests often can't distinguish legal hemp from pot. They're so similar, police officers and the field tests they use on suspected drugs sometimes can't tell the difference. Field tests used by law enforcement officers can detect THC but aren't sophisticated enough to specify whether a shipment is legal hemp or low-grade illegal pot, and drug-sniffing dogs will alert on both.
Shop owner Oren Levy said the field tests came back positive likely because hemp often tests positive for a permissible, trace amount of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the chemical in cannabis that causes people to get high.
"He was a hungry cop. He thought he had the bust of the day," said Levy at the time of the arrest, whose Green Angel CBD NYC sells oils, teas and other products containing the extract. He said he fears the seizure could force him out of business.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is also found in marijuana but does not have a psychoactive effect. Some people say it provides them with pain and anxiety relief.
"I can't believe I'm going through this for a legal business," Levy said after his brother's arrest. "I can't believe my poor brother got locked up."
Ronen Levy is now free without bail after pleading not guilty in November.
Police haven't immediately commented on the expected dismissal.
The Levys' case is not entirely unique to them. Since the U.S. government removed industrial hemp last year from the list of illegal drugs, a number of similar cases have cropped up across the country.
In July, a man who said he was delivering 300 pounds of hemp to a Minnesota CBD-oil processing company was arrested in South Dakota after authorities there said it tested positive for THC. The substance "looked and smelled like raw marijuana," a state trooper said.
In January, Idaho authorities arrested a truck driver and seized nearly 7,000 pounds of what they believed to be marijuana, even though the company shipping the material said accompanying paperwork made clear it was industrial hemp.
At two other truckers and two security guards involved in transporting industrial hemp have been arrested and charged with felony drug trafficking. In May, the U.S. Agriculture Department sent a memorandum instructing states not to block the transportation of hemp that contains 0.3% or less THC.
The Nov. 2 Brooklyn bust that landed Ronen Levy in handcuffs stemmed from a tip from a FedEx worker who suspected the load of plants on their way from Fox Holler Farms in Fair Haven, Vermont, to Levy's shop were marijuana, New York City police said.
"We got information about a large package of drugs. We got it in here. We field tested it as marijuana, called the individual in. He was placed under arrest," NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said at the time.
The police department drew attention to the bust by posting pictures on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts showing the officers in a room full of the seized plants. Oren Levy and the farm fought back with posts of their own.
Fox Holler Farms said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that the shipment bound for Levy's shop was fully compliant with Vermont, New York and federal laws.
The farm's lawyer, Timothy Fair, said that before the hemp shipment left Vermont, it was tested at FedEx's request by a local police department. The level of THC was less than half the allowable threshold, he said.
A FedEx spokeswoman said even if the plants were hemp, they should not have been shipped using its service. The company's service guide lists hemp plants, leaves, oil and CBD derived from hemp among its prohibited items.
Oren Levy said he would've gone to the police station himself but couldn't because he was recovering from a recent surgery. Soon enough, Oren Levy said, Ronen texted him: "I think I'm getting arrested."
"They treated him like a drug dealer," Oren Levy said. "He's never been to jail in his whole life. He still hasn't slept. He's paranoid."