Seized bud test above limits
Charges won’t be pressed against clerks, business
Lab results were returned to the prosecuting attorney’s office from a Drug Task Force raid, which seized $10,000 worth of flower suspected to be marijuana from the Tobacco SuperStore in Mena
“Of the nine samples that were sent for testing, six were not in compliance for state law’s definition of hemp,” Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner, for the 18th West Judicial District, said, noting that some of the flower product being sold was effectively marijuana, according to state guidelines.
However, Riner said he does not have intentions to prosecute the clerks at the store or the owner of the state-wide chain.
“That statute says hemp is contraband and it can be seized, but to prove they sold marijuana I have to prove they knew they sold marijuana,” Riner said. “I think they thought they were selling hemp flower. So, I am not interested in prosecuting those clerks, not interested in prosecuting the corporation. What I am concerned about is, under the law, an 8 year-old can go purchase hemp flower and smoke it and it may in fact be marijuana. My focus is keeping it out of commerce.”
Though he does not intent to levy charges, Riner said the public and those in commerce have been put on notice.
“If they start selling it again ,they have been notified some of it is marijuana.”
Riner said he asked for the search, seizer and testing after drug court participants were testing positive for THC, who claimed the product was purchased at the Tobacco SuperStore.
The tests, conducted by the state plant board, have a margin of error of .06%. The THC limit for hemp flower in the state is .3%. To be classified as marijuana, or an illegal substance, the labs would have to allow for the margin of error, resulting in THC levels of .36%.
Riner said lab results from some of the samples returned THC levels as high as .41% and .55%.
“Some of it was double the limit,” Riner said, noting the issue affects the community.
“One of my school districts had a child with a vape pen at school and the vape pen is supposedly hemp derived product, and that’s a problem. From what I have seen, some of the hemp products are actually marijuana.”
Riner said he appreciates the clerks and businesses that refuse to sell hemp products to minors.
“They have signs up that you have to be to 18 to purchase products at the store. So they are trying to be more responsible, but in theory an 8 year-old can legally buy hemp products. There is nothing that prohibits them to sell hemp based products to minors. It’s a total mess and a shame.”
Riner said the laws surrounding hemp have caused issues for a variety of community members, including law enforcement, schools, employers and industry.
“What are we going to put up with in our community? We have people struggling with addiction. It doesn’t help our schools, our general public, our law enforcement.
Though THC can be found in small quantities in hemp flower and process products, such as oils and tinctures, it is the chemical that produces the “high” in marijuana, and research shows THC also has medicinal properties which assist with numerous medical conditions.
The Tobacco SuperStore, like many of its sister stores across the state owned by the same company, and many other retailers sell products containing CBD.
CBD is a nonintoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp. Hemp, which was recently federally approved for agricultural practices, comes with some restrictions in the state of Arkansas.
Though it can be grown and then trafficked and sold to processors, so long as permits and licenses are in order, hemp flower – or the bud – is currently considered contraband in the state.
Proponents of classifying hemp as contraband say that it makes the job of law enforcement officers easier. Because the flower of marijuana and hemp look identical to an observer, it is impossible to differentiate between the two without testing for THC in a lab.
The Department Hemp Research Program allows licensed hemp processors to make “publicly marketable hemp products” However, live plants, viable seed, leaf or floral materials are considered “non-publicly marketable hemp products” and should only be in the possession of a Department Hemp License Holder.
The Tobacco SuperStore procures some of their hemp products from an instate source, Ouachita Farms in Saline County. Owners of Ouachita Farms told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in November 2019 that, “they’d take their chances selling the flowers,” co-owner David Owen said.
“It’s just time to go ahead and bring it all out there,” Owen said. “People are interested in locally grown. They want to know where it came from and can go out to the farm and see it.”
Owen said that Ouachita Farms decided to sell the flowers in Arkansas after a federal judge struck down an Indiana law that criminalized possession of smokable hemp.
He told the ADG his company stands ready to file a lawsuit if need be.