Oklahoma investigators are trying to determine whether a tractor-trailer en route from Kentucky to Colorado carried 18,000 or more pounds of industrial hemp, illegal marijuana or both.
A local news station is reporting that four people have been charged in the case, but the president of a Colorado company said the shipment was “nothing but hemp” that was to be processed into oil for use in a variety of salves and supplements.
“It’s a mix-up,” said James “Jamie” Baumgartner, president of Panacea Life Sciences. “It’s also a lack of understanding of local authorities about what is allowed and what is not. It’s our understanding as a licensed hemp broker that we were free to exchange from point to point hemp or hemp-based products between states that have a hemp program. This was completely shocking to us when we heard the fellows were pulled over.”
Two Pawhuska, Okla., police officers stopped the truck just before 3 a.m. Wednesday because it didn’t stop at a stoplight, reported KOTV in Tulsa, Okla.
Farah Warsame, Tadesse Deneke, Andrew Ross and David Dirksen have been arrested in the case, according to Oklahoma’s News 4. Each has been charged with trafficking of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, according to the website of the Osage County Sheriff’s Office.
The officers said they smelled an odor of marijuana, Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said in a Thursday interview. Paperwork for the shipment said the truck was transporting 18,000 pounds of hemp from Kentucky to Colorado.
Some of the contents “looked like hemp and some also were buds that looked like it was possibly marijuana,” Woodward said. “That has been taken for testing.”
Four men were initially taken into custody without charges. Two men were inside the tractor-trailer and two other men were in an escort mini-van, Woodward said.
The men told police that “they stopped at a farm in Kentucky, and the trailer was loaded by people at the farm,” Woodward said. The men “claimed they weren’t aware of what was in it, and then later said it was legal hemp headed to Colorado to be processed into oil.”
But investigators were checking that out. “It’s not as cut-and-dried as their story makes it sound,” Woodward said.
Baumgartner did not know exactly from where in Kentucky the hemp originated. He said the hemp was being taken to Louisville, Colo., and another building in Golden, Colo. It was the first shipment from Kentucky, he said. Other hemp shipments have come from Washington, Oregon and Nevada and “we’ve never had any problems.”
The Pawhuska police chief and district attorney could not be reached for comment.
“I know there is a rush on those (lab tests) so we could learn something today or tomorrow,” Woodward said Thursday.
“Unless you know what good industrial hemp looks like, it looks like marijuana,” Baumgartner said. “The hemp we purchased from these Kentucky farmers is very high-grade quality. ... Everything was tested for our specifications before it was loaded onto the truck. When you have a high-quality product like that, it’s going to look like marijuana. And it’s going to smell like marijuana, but it’s not.”
Baumgartner said the truck carried $500,000 to $1 million worth of hemp, and “its value is being diminished as it is opened to the air and sunshine and people rifling through it.”
The investigation caused a stir in Pawhuska, a city of 3,600 people in Osage County.
“By late morning Wednesday, a large section of the municipal parking area behind Pawhuska City Hall was the scene of a multiagency investigation by city, county, state and federal law officers,” the Pawhuska Journal-Capital newspaper reported on its website.
“Officers moved the transport truck from the municipal parking area downtown to the training center at the Osage County Sheriff’s Department, south of town, to unload the shipment,” the newspaper reported. “By early afternoon, law officers were busy breaking open containers and examining the contents.”
Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis in June, and the state allows the transport of medical marijuana “if it was grown in Oklahoma and shipped to another Oklahoma location,” Woodward said. “You have to have a state of Oklahoma transportation license as part of your processor license.”
In the past, authorities have stopped shipments of marijuana in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 pounds, Woodward said.
“But that was true, high-grade, illegally trafficked marijuana,” Woodward said. “This is unique in that we have a company that’s bringing it through Oklahoma that’s claiming it’s industrial hemp to be processed in Colorado. That’s kind of a new one.
“But as I said, there were other things in that truck that looked like buds, beyond what we have ever seen as traditional hemp.”