Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Our View: Clarity needed on cannabidiol

Source: willistonherald.com

With disparate responses so far this year by law enforcement to similar situations, the Attorney General needs to clarify the status of CBD, also known as cannabidiol.
Earlier this week, a McKenzie County man was charged with several drug offenses for selling products that contained CBD. Earlier this month, police in Bismarck raided two stores selling products containing CBD, but have told at least one store owner that charges are unlikely because there was no intent to commit a crime, because the owner believed the products to be legal.
Falesteni Abuhamda, the McKenzie County man who is facing charges, said he believed the same.
And Abuhamda has another argument — that because the products are made from industrial hemp, they shouldn’t be classified as a controlled substance.
That isn’t a minor distinction.
Industrial hemp doesn’t have THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, and the state has seen major increases in its industrial hemp program just this year.
The larger issue, however, is that two similar situations could have such different outcomes.
The April raid of Abuhamda’s stores was conducted by the Northwest Narcotics Task Force. Given the task force’s long-standing reluctance to speak to the media about its operations — something that comes from orders from the Attorney General’s office — we have only the charging documents to rely on to explain the thinking of the officers.
Those documents don’t speak about intent in any way, nor do they clarify the statute under which they believe CBD is illegal.
The North Dakota Century Code covers a wide range of derivatives from cannabis plants, but it isn’t clear if cannabidiol is included in that. When the Herald reached out to the Attorney General’s office, no one was able to clarify whether cannabidiol was covered by the existing statute.
This has the potential to be a serious problem.
If the Bismarck police made the correct decision, then intent to sell a controlled substance matters when pursuing charges.
If the interpretation Abuhamda puts forth, that because the products he sold came from industrial hemp, they weren’t illegal at all, then the Northwest Narcotics Task Force overstepped its bounds.
Such confusion invites uneven and unfair enforcement of the law and runs the risk of a major miscarriage of justice.
We call on Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to offer clarification about whether CBD is covered by existing statute and whether there is, indeed, an exemption for products derived from industrial hemp.
Stenehjem’s office should also loosen the restrictions it has put on narcotics task forces about speaking to the media. Allowing more transparency from task forces would help resolve confusion about how and why charging decisions are made.
We also call on police and state’s attorneys statewide to seek guidance from Stenehjem when pursuing charges in cases such as Abuhamda’s.
The interests of justice demand it.

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