NEW YORK (AP) — The bust was a bust, and it could end up costing New York City some serious green.
A day after prosecutors dropped criminal charges in a case spotlighting confusion over hemp, marijuana and conflicting laws, the Brooklyn brothers caught in the chaos took the first step toward suing the city and the police department.
Oren and Ronen Levy filed notices of claim Wednesday, saying the “nightmare” ordeal that began with Ronen’s Nov. 2 arrest and the seizure of 106 pounds (48 kilograms) of hemp plants tarnished their reputations and threatened their livelihoods selling CBD, the extract showing up lately in everything candy to coffee.
A notice of claim isn’t a lawsuit, but could pave the way for one. State law requires such a document, which outlines allegations, at the start of legal action against a municipal entity.
The police department said it will review the lawsuit if one is filed.
Police boasted on social media about the bust, but Oren Levy said officers relied only on a field test that came back positive for marijuana while ignoring lab test results and other paperwork he provided that showed the plants were hemp, not marijuana.
Oren Levy says he’s out about $40,000 between legal fees and the cost of the plants, and was told told not to expect them back, while Ronen Levy was shaken by his arrest on felony marijuana possession charges.
Through prominent civil rights lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, the brothers are demanding $10 million. Moreover, Oren Levy said, they want the officers held accountable.
“What they did is completely illegal, and these are the people we have to trust to keep us safe?” Oren Levy said.
Complicating matters are conflicting laws on hemp, CBD and related products.
The U.S. government cleared the way for the CBD explosion last year when it removed industrial hemp from the list of illegal drugs, so long as it contains 0.3% or less THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in cannabis that causes people to get high.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is also found in marijuana but does not have an intoxicating effect. Some people say it provides them with pain and anxiety relief.
New York penal law still considers hemp illegal, regardless of THC level.
The state’s agriculture department has been running a pilot program for the sale and distribution of hemp, but authorities said neither the Levys nor the Vermont farm that supplied the plants had the required permits to participate.
Oren Levy said it’s his understanding that no licenses are required to sell hemp or CBD.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law establishing a streamlined regulatory process for hemp sales and production in New York.
The hemp seized from the Levys contained less than .06% THC, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. In dropping the charges against Ronen Levy, he said the case was “more appropriately dealt with as a regulatory than criminal matter.”
By Michael Sisak