It was a rare day off for Todd Smith, owner of Top Hat Tobacco and Cigar when he was out of town on July 13 when his phone rang. A friend who had been manning the store for him called him and said the Anderson County deputies were at the shop to confiscate its smokable hemp.
Smith talked to the deputies over the phone and tried to convince them how he had abided by all the federal regulations, but ultimately they left with nearly two pounds of hemp worth thousands of dollars.
Smith says that the officials are categorizing hemp as marijuana whereas the South Carolina Department of Agriculture defines hemp as a scientifically different plant.
As per the incident report, the officials went to Top Hat in reference to the “illegal distribution/sale of marijuana”, and enquired if the store sold hemp flower, as marketed on its front window. When Smith’s friend showed the officers four jars filled with smokable hemp, that the report refers as “green, leafy and plant-like substance,” officers seized them and warned the employees that the product was illegal to sell to the public.
According to the report, the type of the incident is listed as “unlawful sale of marijuana”, however, no one was charged, and Smith said he wasn’t even selling marijuana, it was hemp.
The confiscation came in three days following the opinion by the State Attorney General’s Office in reference to raw hemp to the State Law Enforcement Division, sending shock waves throughout the hemp industry in the state.
According to the federal government, it is legal to manufacture, sell and possess hemp-derived cannabinoid with a maximum concentration of 0.3% THC or tetrahydro cannabinoid per unit of a product. However, many states have had a different opinion, especially when it comes to THC, the psychoactive drug found in cannabis.
THC is the main chemical responsible for causing the ‘high’ that users feel while smoking weed or pot. On the other hand, CBD has myriad medical benefits associated with it, as reported by many users. Several states have modified their policies that earlier stated “products with even the smallest traces of THC are illegal” and aligned with the federal regulations allowing a threshold of 0.3%.
However, the lack of proper drug test equipment has caused chaos throughout the country. Even the slightest traces of THC is causing CBD based products to fail the drug test which is leading to rapid increment in people getting arrested for marijuana usage.
While enforcement officials are confiscating hemp-derived cannabinoid, alleged victims say that it is legal and remain confused about why they were charged for it in the first place.
The opinion by the State Attorney General’s Office stated that a license is required to legally handle raw hemp and confirmed that processed hemp, or hemp products, are legal without one. However, it did not clearly define the difference between raw and processed hemp.
According to Sgt. J.T. Foster, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman, the confiscation at Top Hat is the second such incident which involves the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office following the opinion by the attorney general. The first incident took place at the Canes corner on July 12. It is a convenience store in Piedmont. The same officers seized hemp flower from the store, and no one was charged there either.
Foster said the deputies responded to Canes Corner after receiving reports about the store that it was selling marijuana cigarettes to children. Foster did not comment on whether the Sheriff’s office would continue to seize smokable hemp or if these two incidents were the only ones.
According to a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, Robert Kittle, the opinion leaves it unclear whether the confiscated smokable hemp or flower, from Canes Corner and Top Hat, was illegal or not.
Robert wrote in an emailed statement that nothing in their opinion is addressed to CBD hemp flower specifically, so whether or not it is illegal to sell hemp flowers without a license is a question of fact which can be determined by the law enforcement.
For weeks, several hemp retailers throughout the Upstate say that they have decided to pull the smokable hemp from their store shelves out of fear that the law enforcement officials will confiscate it. SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson denied commenting on whether the agency will be confiscating more smokable hemp in the state.