North Carolina: Charges dropped against hemp store owner

On Dec. 17, the State of North Carolina dropped all charges against Hector Sanchez, co-owner of Essential Hemp at 529 South Elm St. in Greensboro.

As previously reported, Sanchez was arrested on Oct. 25 on charges of selling “marijuana” in his store, which he owns with his wife Kattya Castellón. According to the warrant, the arrest was based on retail products seized from their store on Sept. 14 or purchased there by undercover officers in August.

Castellón, former Assistant Director of Latino Affairs at UNCG, was never charged, but the arrest of Sanchez, a Latinx 15-year veteran of the US Navy, for selling products advertised by manufacturers as containing only legal Delta-8 THC, drew attention from attorneys and academics across the state.

Sanchez and Castellón called the arrest retaliation for Sanchez’s contacting the media about the alleged illegality of the September seizure, in which GPD sergeant and Homeland Security investigator D. S. Rakes confiscated merchandise and cash from Essential Hemp, but did not press charges for 41 days. The arrest came one day after the News and Record reported Sanchez’s claim that GPD had confiscated $25,000 worth of merchandise and held it 40 days without filing any charges. “We embarrassed them,” Sanchez said.

Dr. Phil Dixon of the UNC School of Government, whose specialties include cannabis/hemp law and search and seizure, said he found the arrest warrant lacking in probable cause, and called multiple statements made by Det. Rakes in the search warrant “particularly troubling” and “absurd.”

The order filed Dec. 17 by Guilford County Assistant District Attorney William H. Hill, dismissed the charges of Felony Possession of Marijuana, Felony Possession with the Intent to Sell Marijuana, and Felony Maintaining a Dwelling for the Purposes of Keeping a Controlled Substance. It stated the rationale for the dismissal:

“There is insufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution for the following reasons: Officer had PC (Probable Cause) bases for charge based on information gained from investigation. However, defendant purchased drugs from a distributor who represented them as being lawful in NC, and therefor it appears that the defendant did not knowingly possess.”

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