In a case drawing attention from legal experts across North Carolina, a Hispanic US Navy veteran was arrested Monday for allegedly selling “marijuana” at his store in downtown Greensboro.
On Monday, six Greensboro police officers arrived at the home of Hector Sanchez and Kattya Castellón, co-owners of Essential Hemp on 529 South Elm St., and arrested Sanchez on 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. According to the warrant, the arrest was not based on a search of the home, but on retail products seized from the store on Sept. 14 or purchased there by undercover officers in August.
Sanchez’s attorney Brennan Aberle 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.
In a Sept. 24 letter to Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Sanchez stated the seized products represented a $9,500 wholesale value and a potential retail value of over $25,000. In an Oct. 22 interview, Sanchez called this “a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.” In an article published that day by the News and Record, he was quoted as saying “I think it was shakedown . . . we are in their backyard downtown and they don’t like that.”
Although Sanchez has now been charged, the arrest is problematic, according to not only Sanchez’s attorney Aberle, but an expert consulted by YES! Weekly.
“Hector embarrassed the GPD by publicizing that they had seized his property, weren’t giving it back and had not arrested him,” Aberle told YES! Weekly on Monday afternoon. “In apparent retaliation, they have doubled-down with these baseless charges.”
According to both Sanchez and the manufacturers, the product seized by Det. Rakes contains only delta-8 THC, which is less potent than delta-9, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The 2018 Farm Bill made delta-8-THC legal in North Carolina, while delta-9 is not.
Sanchez showed YES! Weekly over a dozen certificates shipped with the products he purchased from manufacturers. “These are a third-party analysis of all the products. All the manufacturers provide those to us, and we are very confident that they are right. These US-based companies have a lot to lose if they got lenient or relaxed their standards.”
After obtaining copies of the search warrant and arrest warrant, I shared them with Dr. Phil Dixon of the UNC School of Government. Dixon, whose specialties include cannabis and hemp law, criminal law and procedure, and search and seizure, said that he finds both documents lacking in regards to probable cause, and called multiple statements made by Det. Rakes in the September search warrant “particularly troubling.”
After identifying himself as a detective “currently assigned to the Vice/Narcotics division” and “a Task Force Officer with the Department of Homeland Security,” Rakes wrote that, in August, he “received information from a concerned citizen” about Essential Hemp, and wrote that he “knows through training and experience that smoke shop retail stores frequently sell loose marijuana flower products that claim to be legal and under the .3% THC guidelines,” but that that “the majority of marijuana flower items sold are above the legal THC guidelines, thus making it illegal to possess them.”
Dixon called these claims “news to me” and noted that “nowhere does he state …….