Hemp farm

Hemp varieties being grown at Wiles Development in Plattsmouth.

Look no further than Gov. Pete Ricketts’ comments to an Omaha TV station about how convoluted the situation has become regarding cannabidiol, better known as CBD, in Nebraska.

“You need to work with your local officials to decide what's appropriate,” he told KETV. “Obviously, that's going to be dependent on where you live.”

The widespread uncertainty has generated myriad responses across Nebraska, with the possibility of arrest under a state law varying wildly between counties. State officials must provide clarity as soon as possible to ensure law-abiding citizens can actually follow the law.

A large chunk of the confusion seems to be derived from provisions added by prosecutors to Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s bill, LB657, which legalized the farming and production of industrial hemp as a cash crop. Hemp is also used to make CBD products, which are available throughout the state.

Since hemp and marijuana are both derived from cannabis plants, they can’t easily be told apart. This created problems for the Nebraska State Patrol, which sent prosecutors a letter saying its crime lab presently can’t distinguish the difference between the substances, nor can it test their potency.

The legislation matched the cap on hemp’s THC, the compound responsible for the high, to federal standards at 0.3%. Given that strong strains of recreational marijuana are frequently between 20% and 30% THC – vaping cartridges can deliver upward of 90% – the difference is critical to ensure those complying with the new hemp law aren't arrested and accused of violating existing drug laws.

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The problem with leaving discretion up to the prosecutors is that, in a state as expansive as Nebraska, the approaches are nearly as wide-ranging.

Judges have thrice dismissed felony drug charges filed by the Washington County attorney against the owner and employees of a Herman business. A North Platte businessman was also charged with a felony after police received complaints that he was selling hemp oil, while prosecutors dismissed charges against a mother and son for selling CBD at their Scottsbluff store.

Conversely, the Douglas County attorney flatly stated he won’t prosecute anyone on CBD charges. Lincoln and Lancaster County, meanwhile, continue to investigate the impact LB657 will have on prosecuting people arrested with small amounts of marijuana.

This quandary isn’t just limited to Nebraska, either. Labs in Ohio and Georgia, for instance, are experiencing similar troubles, while the Texas Tribune reports that Texas state troopers have been instructed not to arrest suspects in low-level marijuana cases.

Despite their similar appearance and origins, CBD and recreational marijuana are vastly different in terms of their effects on users. Accordingly, statewide guidance differentiating the two is needed to prevent more Nebraskans from falling victim to this legal limbo.

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