Capt. Patrick Tierny, a police officer in the Special Operations Division of the Concord Police Department, says he would like to see more regulatory certainty in North Carolina where cannabis law is concerned.

Tierny is doing his best to understand the state’s cannabis laws. He keeps a notebook on the topic and has even created a flow chart to help his department follow the letter of the law.

He says he is actively seeking council on the topic so that he and his fellow officers know what to do when they encounter marijuana and its byproducts in the course of their work.

“That’s all police do is enforce the law,” he says, “I’m not the final say on this.”

He made it clear he doesn’t want to appear to be pressuring the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) to maintain or end cannabis prohibition.

But, as an officer of the law, he says, “I can’t get a definitive answer; there is a big grey area.”

Police Captain Patrick Tierney - Concord Police Department

Capt. Patrick Tierny, Concord Police Special Operations Division.

[Photo courtesy CPD.]

” … there is a big grey area.”

N.C. Law is Confusing

Tierny points to N.C. General Statue 90-87 (16) as one source of the confusion:

“Marijuana” means all parts of the plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin, but shall not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil, or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.

The term does not include industrial hemp as defined in G.S. 106-568.51, when the industrial hemp is produced and used in compliance with rules issued by the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission.

Reading the statue, Tierny says, hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products not produced as part of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program are illegal per state law.

However, other state law allows some medical patients and their caregivers to possess the products “but don’t define how you can get the stuff,” he says.

If law enforcement officers across the state took a firm stance on that law alone there could conceivably be raids on nearly every CBD dispensary that has opened in the state over the past couple years as many of them carry hemp and CBD products that are manufactured out of state.

NC General Assembly logo

Interstate commerce and international law

Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug as part of the federal Controlled Substances Act, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made it clear that it considers CBD an illegal drug.

However, in Aug. 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which oversees the DEA, acknowledged that, “Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 legalized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes in States where such growth and cultivation is legal under State law … “

Still, as the Brookings Institution points out in this quote and in the accompanying video, the DEA considers CBD illegal, and always has.

In its December (2016) regulatory action, DEA reiterated that CBD is considered an illegal substance—just like other marijuana products. Formally, the action finalized a rule proposed in 2011 to establish a distinct entry for marijuana extracts (like CBD) in the federal schedules of controlled substances, separate from marijuana itself.

In explaining its December decision, the DEA characterized the rule as bringing U.S. marijuana enforcement into better compliance with international drug control regulations—under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, marijuana and its extracts are tracked separately.

However, in Aug. 2018, the U.N. ordered a full review marijuana’s status in international law.

As reported by Tom Angell on MarijuanaMoment.net:

In a related development, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in marijuana that is increasingly used for medical purposes, does not warrant being controlled under the global agreements.

“The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a letter announcing the moves. “The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a Critical Review” of marijuana, hashish, cannabis extracts and THC.

Feds disrupt business in N.C.

This year alone United Parcel Service (UPS) called authorities on a CBD wholesaler in Raleigh when a shipment of CBD gummies from Florida — state with medical marijuana laws — purportedly burst open during delivery.

Since the shipment weighed more than 200 lbs., the man, Ayman Tamim Nu Man Alqazah, was charged with felony trafficking. He faces prison time.

It is unclear if his charges have been dropped. Searches in the federal court system database, PACER, did not turn up any information, nor have there been follow-up news reports.

Earlier in the year, shipments of hemp were seized and destroyed by the DEA in Wilmington, N.C. As The Port City Daily reported in June 2018:

On three occasions, Butler said, shipments via FedEx, UPS and the United States Post Office were intercepted and destroyed by the DEA; shipments were intercepted both in Oregon and en route at a Greensboro shipping depot.

“We’re a new company, and obviously this has been a financial setback for us – we’re out of money, the producer is out of money. We had all the appropriate paperwork, so we don’t understand,” Butler said.

There have been plenty of other reports of local and federal law enforcement showing up at CBD shops and even hemp fields, sometimes to ask friendly questions and sometimes to seize CBD products.

Time for cannabis legislation

For more than a decade, no cannabis reform bill has made it to the floor of the N.C. General Assembly for a debate.

At best, a bill might get a committee hearing, Rep. Kelly Alexander, Jr., explained in a Carolina Cannabis Newspodcast taped in Aug. 2018.

His latest bill, H.B. 994, which would have decriminalized possession up to four ounces and allowed those convicted on cannabis charges in the past to seek expungement, made it to the Judiciary I committee. No action was taken.

Police officer cannabis stop sign cartoon BY Pavelmir iStock-518356930 cropped

Grey area = new norm

The NCGA’s inaction isn’t helping the state’s law enforcement officers.

“I’ve gone to several sources to try to get a definitive answer,” the police detective says, Capt. Tierny, adding, “We’re still early into this. I wish there were a clearer path.”

Tierney says he has attended trainings hosted by the N.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program and has even visited hemp fields. But, he says, the trainings are focused on the front-end of the industrial hemp industry, the farming aspects. He wants to know more about what happens on the back end.

“I think this is a cash crop,” the police capitan says, suggesting it could be a good crop for North Carolina’s long-beleaguered tobacco farmers.

Tierny says he’s visited with vendors who sell CBD products and that he can tell they’re just business people trying to make a living, though he notes they also seem confused regarding the state’s cannabis laws.

While stopping short of suggesting what the NCGA should do, Tierney did say, “I think the legislature needs to catch up.”

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

[Header image credit Pavelmir.]