By the time they got to Arizona, Christopher Tinsley and Gordon Peppers had been on the road for a day, transporting a load of legal CBD-rich hemp from Oregon to Texas, planning on reaching their destination by nightfall before heading back home to Oregon the following morning.
The entire trip was supposed to take three days with the two longtime friends taking turns driving.
But they had the misfortune of driving through Yavapai County just north of Phoenix where the county attorney is still living in Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” America, a prohibitionist of a prosecutor who has a reputation of sending licensed medical marijuana patients to prison.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk also has enforcers on the payroll, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, which has seized millions of dollars in civil asset forfeitures over the years with the money going straight into a fund she manages. Polk once penned an editorial claiming “marijuana use was associated with the tragic and needless deaths of 62 children in Arizona.”
But Tinsley and Peppers knew none of this when they drove into Arizona on March 25 after spending the night in Nevada.
The fact they had all the paperwork proving the load was legal was beside the point, according to Yavapai County sheriff’s deputy Trevor Hearl, who claimed in his report that his “training and experience” left no doubt in his mind that they had been transporting “high-grade marijuana” instead of CBD-rich hemp.
As a result, the two men spent eight days in jail at a time when the coronavirus was running rampant in jails and prisons across the country. They were charged with several drug trafficking felonies which were all dismissed after an independent lab test confirmed the shipment was, indeed, legal hemp. Now the two friends are preparing to file a lawsuit.
“All they had to do was call the Oregon Department of Agriculture with the (certificate of analysis) and give them the badge number from each container and the department of agriculture would have told them where it was grown, when it was harvested, when it was sold and all of that stuff,” Tinsley said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
Instead, the deputies claimed the documents were fake without making any effort to prove it.
One supervisor even lied to them by claiming he had called the Oregon company they were working for and was informed the company only sold marijuana, not hemp.
“I said that’s kind of funny because it was 8 a.m. and I happen to know the company does not open until 9:30 or 10 so unless you had a nice conversation with the automated system, I highly doubt you spoke to them,” Tinsley said.
The men were also informed they fit the profile of drug traffickers because they were driving a car with out-of-state plates on a known drug corridor.
“I kept waiting for him to say it was because we were black,” Tinsley said.
Even before pulling him over, Hearl claimed in his report he was able to determine that Tinsley “appeared to be extremely nervous” as he was driving because “he was pushed back in his seat, with both hands on the steering wheel and both arms locked out.”
Tinsley said the bulk of the arrest report is nothing but lies and exaggerations. This is how Hearl justified the traffic stop.
While driving east on I-40 east bount near mm 140, I observed a Nissan work style van traveling in the right (slow) lane. As I got closer to the vehicle, I noticed the vehicle drift from centered in its lane toward the shoulder, hugging the fog line. In my experience, this shift in lane position is a subconscious behavior associated with creating distance from a threat. In this scenario, my approaching patrol vehicle is a threat to people involved in criminal activity.
As I got closer, I noticed the vehicle did not have a permanent license plate displayed in the license plate bracket. I then saw the shape of the temporary license plate tag in the rear window, but could not make out the numbers because the rear window tint was too dark. Due to the slow speed the vehicle was traveling and other traffic moving at the posted speed limit, I passed the vehicle in order to prevent the disturbance of the normal flow of traffic. As I passed the vehicle, I noticed the driver appeared to be extremely nervous. He was pushed back in his seat, with both hands on the steering wheel and both arms locked out. This type of driving position appeared to be uncomfortable and is not typical behavior displayed by the innocent motoring public while traveling long distances on the high way.
I noticed the vehicle drift from centered in its lane toward the shoulder, hugging the fog line. In my experience, this shift in lane position is a subconscious behavior associated with creating distance from a threat. In this scenario, my approaching patrol vehicle is a threat to people involved in criminal activity.
The deputies were so convinced they had make a huge drug bust that they separated the two men, trying to get them to rat each out for crimes they did not commit. The two men ended up spending six hours in handcuffs in the back of separate patrol cars as the deputies searched their van before they were driven to jail.
The deputies weighed the hemp twice; once while it was inside the totes it was being transported in, then again without the totes; the true weight; a difference of 131 pounds.
“Instead of us having 286 pounds of hemp, they were saying we now had 417 pounds with the hemp inside the totes themselves,” Tinsley said.
The deputies then informed the owner of the hemp company who had been trying to secure their release that they had been caught with 417 pounds of marijuana, making the owner believe they had picked up an additional 131 pounds of actual marijuana to transport with the hemp. That made him hesitant to hire an attorney for the men. It was not until he read the police report that included both weights that he realized what they had done.
During the entire traffic stop as well as in his report, Hearl kept referring to his “training and experience” as to how he knew the men were lying which he admitted did not go beyond a simple smell test.
“He kept say, ‘well, it smells like marijuana,'” Tinsey said.
But had he received proper training, he would have known that hemp and marijuana are identical because they are both cannabis plants so yes, they both smell alike. The only difference is that hemp contains less than .3 percent of THC which is the cannabinoid that gets people high.
In other words, no matter how much training and experience a cop may have, the only way to determine whether a plant is hemp or marijuana is through an independent lab test which had already been done and was included in the certificate of analysis accompanying the load.
It’s been almost two years since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized hemp at the federal level but local and states cops have evidently not made any effort to train their cops on the issue.
According to the Miami New Times, the following arrests took place in 2019:
- The New York City Police Department seized 106 pounds of legal hemp in November after a FedEx driver chose to deliver the shipment to an NYPD precinct instead of its destination, a CBD business. The NYPD congratulated itself on Twitter about how it intercepted “marijuana that was destined for our city streets” — only to have to return it several weeks later when it was proven to be legal hemp. The FedEx driver had picked up the hemp from a farm in Vermont and took it to a police station in that state, which determined it to be legal hemp. The driver then took it to the NYPD for a second opinion. The NYPD invited the owner to pick up his legal product and then arrested the owner’s brother when he attempted to retrieve it. The owner and his brother are preparing to sue.
- The Pawhuska Police Department in Oklahoma that January seized 18,000 pounds of legal hemp that was being transported from Kansas to Colorado, where CBD would be extracted from it. Four men were arrested for marijuana trafficking before all charges were dismissed in July.
- Idaho State Police seized 6,700 pounds of legal hemp that January and are refusing to return it to its owner despite lab reports having long proven the hemp to be legal. A truck driver arrested on felony trafficking charges ended up sentenced to 180 days in jail after accepting a plea deal for failing to provide proper trucking documentation. Shortly after the seizure, state police issued a media release saying “the trooper’s training and experience made him suspicious that the cargo was, in fact, marijuana, not industrial hemp.”
- The South Dakota Highway Patrol seized 292 pounds of legal hemp in July and arrested a man who was driving the hemp from Colorado to Minnesota, where CBD would be extracted from it for use in the commercial market. The hemp has been tested and shows only traces of THC, but prosecutors are proceeding with the case against the man because South Dakota is one of three states that have not legalized hemp. The seized hemp was valued at $36,000, but the CBD extracted from it would have been valued at $100,000. The driver’s next hearing is set for February. He remains out on bond.
- The Colorado State Patrol seized 162 pounds of legal hemp in May and arrested the woman who had been hired to drive it to Las Vegas. They slapped her with trafficking charges punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The charges were dismissed, and the hemp was returned in August after it was tested in a laboratory and proven to be legal.
In all these cases, the arrests are made after the cops refuse to do their due diligence.
“All they had to do was take five to ten minutes to call the Department of Agriculture in Oregon and they could have verified every one of those papers we had,” said Gordon Peppers. “But they told us the entire time we were lying.”
Read the Yavapai County sheriff’s arrest report here.