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Hemp or marijuana? Government shutdown delays drug test in marijuana trafficking case

Andrew Ross spent a week in jail in Oklahoma, where he's facing 15 years to life for allegedly trafficking marijuana. He says he was transporting completely legal and non-intoxicating hemp.

DENVER — The test that could clear a man from Aurora of drug trafficking charges is on hold because of the record-breaking shutdown of the federal government.

Andrew Ross is now back in Colorado, after nearly a week in an Oklahoma jail. He faces 15 years to life in prison because of accusations that he and three others tried to drive about 20,000 pounds of marijuana across the country, but he insists they were hauling a shipment of industrial hemp.

“We know what we are doing is legal,” Ross said.

He works for Patriot Shield, a company that provides security services to people in the cannabis industry. He was on a job last week, working as a guard for the shipment headed from Kentucky to Louisville, Colo. He and a colleague were in a security van that followed the semi-truck carrying the product.

Police in Pawhuska, Okla. stopped the caravan for allegedly running a red light, which led to the discovery. Eventually Ross, his colleague David Dirksen, and the two people driving the semi truck were taken into custody. Ross and Dirksen left jail on bond Tuesday.

RELATED: Aurora man among 4 people accused of trafficking massive pot shipment (but police aren't sure it's pot)

“We thought we were going to be in the clear multiple times throughout the day,” Ross told Next with Kyle Clark. “At the end of the day, everybody was just kind of scared to be the ones that let it go if something came back and they found out they weren’t supposed to let us go.”

As of December, hemp is legal to transport, since President Trump signed off on the 2018 farm bill.

This product looked like marijuana, smelled like marijuana and came back positive for THC in a field test. Industrial hemp does have .03 percent or less of THC, by definition. Pawhuska Police said they also received a report back from a federal lab in Dallas that ran four tests, showing samples were identified as marijuana.

But all four men are waiting on one more formal exam, which has been snarled in the partial government shutdown.

"We don't have a level yet,” Michelle Keely, the first assistant with the Osage County District Attorney's Office, told 9NEWS’ NBC affiliate, KFOR, “We're still waiting on that. Unfortunately, the lab that is going to do the levels is in Washington, D.C. and based upon the furloughs, we don't have that back yet.”

Despite that, Keely, feels confident about their case.

"We have probable cause to believe that the people that were driving the vehicle and the people who were in the security van knew that it was marijuana,” she said.

It matches Ross’ confidence that his name will be cleared, and he hopes to return to Osage County after this is over.

“If I can go back and get a consulting agreement with Osage County to help them learn how to test hemp on the spot, I would do that,” Ross said.

Ross, along with the man who owns the company that ordered the hemp, said they spent months organizing this shipment. That included contacting state agriculture and transportation departments, which didn’t all realize transporting hemp is now legal, Ross said.

Documents provided by that company owner said the product did qualify as hemp when it was tested in Kentucky.

“At this point, the only thing that could be implied is that my partner and I stopped off somewhere along the way and switched it out for marijuana. And if that was the case, why would we have stuck around and waited for them to arrest us? It doesn’t make sense,” Ross said.

The people in the semi truck, Farah Warsame and Tadesse Deneke, are still behind bars.

As of Thursday, the shutdown is on its 27th day.

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