Since Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act into law in May, there has been nothing but confusion.
The new law allows for the cultivation and processing of hemp and opens new commercial markets for farmers and businesses through the sale of hemp products. It also provides licensing and regulation for the crop. Hemp crops must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in cannabis.
Nebraska's law followed the Farm Bill, which legalized hemp federally.
Across the state, shops and stores — including in Washington County — are selling cannabidiol, also known as CBD, a derivative of hemp. However, some county attorneys are prosecuting business owners and employees, while others refuse to file charges.
Late last year, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson re-issued a memorandum that CBDs are a controlled substance and therefore illegal in the state. He had previously issued a similar memo in September 2017.
The only exceptions, the memo said, were a study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and any cannabidiol “contained in a drug product approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”
Following that memo, the Washington County Attorney's Office charged the owner and an employee of a Herman convenience store for selling CBD products. Though the charges have been dismissed three times by a judge, the county attorney's office has appealed.
Washington County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf said his office would continue to abide by Peterson's opinion that CBDs are illegal in Nebraska.
“This will be the policy until such time as this office is provided further guidance by the courts or further action by the Nebraska Legislature,” Vander Schaaf said in a news release.
In North Platte, a business owner was also charged with distribution after selling CBD products.
But in Omaha, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he won't file charges.
In Scottsbluff, the county attorney there dismissed charges against a store owner earlier this year, citing the need for clarification.
Adding to the confusion are recent statements made by Ricketts to Omaha TV station KETV.
“If you've got over 0.3 percent THC content and that would qualify as being illegal because it would have too much of that drug that is illegal here in our state,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts said he also understands the frustration with the inconsistencies across the state.
“That's where you need to work with your local officials to decide what's appropriate,” he said. “Obviously, that's going to be dependent on where you live.”
Ricketts also said he would defer to Peterson.
However, Peterson, the state's top law enforcement official, has not made any comment since his latest memo.
It is expected there will be growing pains with this new law, but the law should be consistent across the state. It's time for Peterson to speak up and end this confusion for the public and prosecutors.