A man from Colorado was one of the four people arrested in what Oklahoma officials say could be the biggest pot bust in their state’s history – if the substance is, in fact, pot.
Police in Pawhuska, Okla., pulled over a semi-truck and a van following behind it when the drivers ran a red light last Wednesday, according to an arrest affidavit from Osage County District Court. Per the document, the officer that stopped the vehicles could smell marijuana as she approached.
Twenty-nine-year-old Andrew Ross, from Aurora, was driving the van. He explained to the officer that he and the van’s passenger, 31-year-old David Dirksen from Michigan, were working as security guards for the semi, the affidavit said. Ross told investigators that the semi needed such protection because it was hauling thousands of pounds of industrial hemp – made legal to transport over state lines when President Trump signed off on the 2018 farm bill.
The arresting officer wrote in her report that Ross cooperated with her and opened the truck, revealing a leafy green substance. According to Pawhuska Police, results from a field test showed it could be marijuana.
Police seized everything from the truck - 60 boxes of the product. Per police, it all weighed more than 20,000 pounds, but an attorney in the case said it could weigh anywhere from 17,000 to 20,000 pounds. Officers also found a 9mm pistol in the van, according to the affidavit.
Officers then arrested Ross and Dirksen, as well as the people in the semi, 33-year-old Farah Warsame from Ohio, and 51-year-old Tadesse Deneke from Alabama. They were charged with trafficking more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana. Ross and Dirksen also face gun charges, for allegedly possessing a gun during the commission of a felony.
Ross and Dirksen work for Patriot Shield, a veteran-owned company that provides security services for people in the cannabis industry. This job was bringing them to Colorado, where they’d deliver the product to Panacea Life Sciences in Louisville.
Panacea’s president, Jamie Baumgartner, told 9NEWS that he ordered hemp months ago, and his team, along with the shipping company he contracted, spoke with several state governments before this delivery to ensure everything would go smoothly. Despite the law, some states did say they wouldn't allow their delivery, Baumgartner and Ross told 9NEWS. They thought the route through Oklahoma would be fine.
“Really nobody has any idea what they are dealing with, which is really the problem,” Ross said. “Even though it’s legal… They have no idea what they are doing.”
Ross said he watched law enforcement test the hemp on the scene, which did test positive for THC, as industrial hemp would. However, to be considered hemp, the product must have no more than three-tenths of a percent of THC.
Ross contends officers told him and Dirksen they could leave multiple times until officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency arrived on scene.
“If we are drug traffickers, we are literally the worst drug traffickers ever,” Ross said. “We sat there after being told to leave the scene and waited to get arrested.”
Baumgartner provided 9NEWS with a copy of the documentation on this shipment. His records show the product does fit the definition of hemp.
As for the 60 boxes of product, there's a surefire way to clear up the confusion: give it an official test. The DEA told Tulsa World that the substance is in Washington, D.C. awaiting a formal examination. It’s unclear how the ongoing shutdown of the federal government might affect that.
Trevor Reynolds represents the people in the semi truck, who remain in jail. He believes that the shutdown is slowing down the testing process.
“I would say that this is the state of Oklahoma overreaching in their mandate to defend the state from illegal drugs,” he said. “The issue here is jumping the gun and not taking the documentation that came with the load at face value.”
According to Reynolds, there’s no way his clients would have known they were transporting marijuana, if that is the case. He said only the security team has a key to access the product on the truck.
If found guilty of aggravated trafficking of marijuana, the punishment could range from 15 years to life in prison.
“I’m looking at 15 years to life and a $500,000 fine, literally doing a legal-compliant job,” Ross said while eating dinner, waiting to fly back to Denver. “It’s completely absurd.”