Pot or not? Busts highlight growing confusion over hemp

NEW YORK — The CBD craze might be leaving the war on drugs a bit dazed and confused.

The extract that’s been showing up in everything from candy to coffee is legally derived from hemp plants, which look and smell an awful lot like that other cannabis — marijuana. They’re so similar, police officers and the field tests they use on suspected drugs sometimes can’t tell the difference.

Case in point, New York City police boasted on social media this week about what seemed like a significant drug bust: 106 pounds of funky, green plants that officers thought sure seemed like marijuana.

But the Vermont farm that grew the plants and the Brooklyn CBD shop that ordered them insisted they’re actually industrial hemp, and perfectly legal. And, they said, they have paperwork to prove it.

Nevertheless, when the shop’s owner brother went to the police station to straighten things out, he was arrested. Police said a field test had come back positive for marijuana.

Shop owner Oren Levy said that’s 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.

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.

“He was a hungry cop. He thought he had the bust of the day,” said Levy, 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 an intoxicating effect. Some people say it provides them with pain and anxiety relief.