AURORA, Colo. — A Colorado man has reached the final chapter in a legal battle over hemp.
Andrew Ross was facing 15 years to life in prison when investigators in Pawhuska, Oklahoma thought they made the mother lode of pot busts. Ross insisted it was hemp, legal under federal law.
Late last week he got word from his lawyer the District Attorney (DA) in Osage County was planning to drop the drug trafficking charge against him during a preliminary court hearing next week.
"Super excited, like I said it was a little anti-climactic," laughed Ross. "But at the end of the day, I will take it. It's been a pretty big weight on my shoulders."
It felt anti-climactic compared to what happened in the last seven months.
Ross was arrested in January and insisted to investigators he was running security on a giant hemp load that weighed as much as 20,000 pounds. His arrest came less than a month after the federal government legalized hemp at the end of 2018. Investigators in Pawhuska were adamant it was illegal weed.
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Ross' lawyer, Matt Lyons, said over the summer he shared 300 pages of their own investigation with the DA in the hopes of clearing Ross' name as well as Ross' business partners.
"I was able to, I think," said Lyons, "Show them without a doubt these people were intending to be a part of a legal transportation of legal hemp."
Lyons said it appeared to work as he got an e-mail from the DA's office last week indicating the charges would be dropped.
We reached out to the Osage County DA's office but hadn't heard back as of Tuesday evening. Lyons said they are planning on putting out a joint press release when the charges are dropped on August 7th.
Hemp is supposed to have .3% or less THC. However when the plants Ross helped transport were confiscated and tested, it came back with mixed THC results.
Ross and his lawyer said that could be for many reasons, including, how the plants were tested, what part of the plant was tested and the fact that farmers and scientists are still working on the best ways to grow hemp and stay within the THC limit.
A total of four people, including two truck drivers were arrested. Charges against all four have now been dropped.
However, as Ross celebrated this case wrapping up, he realized the confusion over hemp rules hadn't gone away.
"When I talk to farmers one of their biggest concerns is how do we transport it?” he said.
Hemp is a growing industry in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Agriculture said addressing transportation is a critical issue.
Hollis Glenn, with the department, said for three years the number of farmers registering to grow hemp in the state doubled each year.
As a part of the 2018 Farm Bill, that legalized hemp under federal law, each state is supposed to come up with a hemp management plan.
Glenn said Colorado went a step further and created the CHAMP initiative.
The goal is to create a regulatory framework for hemp, ways to support the industry as well as work on transportation. That will include working with surrounding states as well as law enforcement.
There will be stakeholder meetings open to the public through the end of the year and then the state hopes to roll out what the agency calls a blueprint for the state's hemp industry by spring of 2020.
The state of Oklahoma is also catching up by updating their hemp law so it’s in compliance with federal law.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture is working with their law enforcement and the district attorney's council to brief them on the rule changes, which they’ve been doing ever since their pilot hemp program was launched in April of 2018.
As for the hemp itself, Ross said it was on its way to Panacea Life Sciences in Colorado.
The CEO said last they heard the hemp was still in a trailer in Oklahoma. They have now hired an attorney as well to work on getting it back. The hemp was originally worth around a half a million dollars.
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