In what was supposedly a giant drug bust by the Texas Department of Public Safety, led to one giant 3,350-pound mistake.
On Dec. 6, a DPS trooper pulled over and arrested a driver who the agency claimed was carrying multiple boxes that held pounds of marijuana east of Amarillo, Texas along Interstate 40. The trooper called for more backup in the form of DEA agents who thought they had the drug bust of all drug busts. They even took to Facebook to post about the incident that showed that showed dozens of boxes, supposedly stuffed with over 3,000 pounds of marijuana, in front of the U-Haul trailer stopped by authorities.
The culprit, Florida resident Aneudy Gonzalez, 39, a contract driver who was making a cross country trip from San Jose, California, to New York City. Gonzalez was pulled over by the trooper after he was seen driving on the highway shoulder and that’s when things started getting south.
Gonzalez was being paid to transport the boxes that the DPS trooper smelled upon inspecting the cargo in the trailer. He suspected it was marijuana after he found pounds of the “green leafy substance” in boxes and black trash bags.
The boxes, however, didn’t have marijuana in them. Gonzalez was being paid $2,500 to transport boxes of legal hemp from a California farm to a New York company. Yet even after he showed the trooper a lab report that verified the cargo met the state’s new legal definition of hemp, he was still charged with federal drug trafficking charges and placed in jail.
According to the Texas Tribune, A DEA agent testified as being unaware of the state law and was confused by the THC content rules.
The root of all of this confusion stems from the recently passed HB 1325 that was signed into law by Gov. Abbott in June 2019. The law legalized the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp, as well as allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp under a state-regulated program in Texas. According to the Texas Tribune, “any cannabis with less than that amount of THC is hemp, which is used in products like clothing, twine, protein powder, and CBD oil.”
This is where authorities made the big mistake in not only arresting Gonzalez but also breaking state policy in interfering “with the interstate commerce of hemp”, which is exactly what happened here. According to Gonzalez’s attorney, Adam Tisdell, a cannabis criminal defense lawyer, the lab report that was shown to the trooper was more than enough evidence to let his client go.
“Especially in a time right now of immense skepticism of law enforcement, the idea that Texas DPS and ultimately, a DEA task force agent, would have no idea what the law is and people go to jail that are completely innocent is horrifying to me and I do believe it should be for the other citizens as well. That’s the moral of this story.” Daniel Mehler, another attorney representing Gonzalez with Tisdell, told KCBD.
It took an entire month for Gonzalez to finally be released from jail after authorities finally dismissed the case. He intends to file legal action and sue for violation of his civil rights.
DPS officials issued a statement that read that the trooper that arrested Gonzalez believed that he was indeed carrying marijuana, not hemp. The agency would then send the confiscated material to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to test for THC levels. The results showed that Gonzalez was indeed carrying hemp and was in compliance with federal law.
“I was just doing my job and the government threw me in jail for almost a month. I fully intend on pursuing justice, whatever that entails,” Gonzalez told Law 360. “Nobody has apologized to me. Somebody owes me an apology.”
After the test results, federal prosecutors asked a judge a month later to dismiss the case, and Gonzalez was released from jail on Jan. 2, a month after being arrested. That sad part for Gonzalez was that this wasn’t the first time he had been arrested on the trip. He spent a night in jail in Arizona after authorities there also confused his cargo for marijuana. He was eventually released the next day after officials determined it was legal hemp.
Gonzalez’s case is an example of potential problems that law enforcement may face as hemp legalization spreads across the country, with many not knowing the difference between it and marijuana. In return, Texas has seen a major drop in marijuana prosecutions since hemp became legal. Gonzalez’s lawyer says that police need to be more aware of these new laws and be able to differentiate between the two to avoid situations like this in the future.
“Today we beat the feds,” Mehler Cannabis, the law firm defending Gonzalez that specializes in marijuana-related laws and litigation, wrote in a Facebook post. “We maintained from the word ‘go’ that all he had was hemp, and this morning the U.S. government moved to dismiss the charges against our client.”
The law firm is seeking the return of the property that was taken from Gonzalez and “just compensation for our client losing a month of his life in the custody.”