Would-Be Pot Thieves Accidentally Steal Pile Of Hemp

By Paul Gaita 10/01/19

One of the accused was reported to have been boasting to fellow patrons at a local tavern about the number of plants he had stolen.

industrial hemp field
Plants classified as hemp contain 0.3% or less of THC © Maticsandra | Dreamstime.com

Six Wisconsin men are facing felony charges for stealing or damaging what they believed to be a bumper crop of marijuana plants but were revealed to be industrial-grade hemp.

Two of the six alleged thieves were caught by employees of a state-licensed hemp-growing operation in Kenosha County and were detained until law enforcement arrived. The other four defendants were either apprehended nearby or arrested after an investigation by the county sheriff's office.

Hemp has become a newly prevalent crop in Wisconsin after the passage of a 2017 law that allowed the production and processing of the plant for industrial use as well as the production of CBD oil.

The Kenosha News detailed a criminal complaint regarding the thefts, which stated that on September 15, the property owner and two employees discovered two of the aforementioned individuals in their field at 3 a.m. The two individuals, who were carrying a suitcase and duffel bag, were held at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived.

Thieves Hit The Same Crop Twice In One Month

A third individual, who had reportedly dropped off the other two, was arrested nearby, while the remaining three alleged thieves were arrested after an investigation by the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department for having reportedly stolen plants earlier in the same month, which prompted the property owner to take watch over his crop.

The latter three defendants had been seen loading a large pile of plants into an SUV parked near the field. According to the complaint, one of the accused thieves was reported to have been boasting to fellow patrons at a local tavern about the number of plants he had stolen.

The criminal complaint claimed that three of the defendants had taken as many as 30 plants during the first raid on the farm, but in the second incident, only five plants were reported as damaged. 

According to the property owner, each plant produces one to three pounds of hemp that sells for $300 to $400 per pound.

"Hemp" and "marijuana" are terms given to varieties of cannabis plants that differ according to the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that produces a euphoric effect or "high"—by dry weight.

Plants classified as hemp contain 0.3% or less of THC, while those labeled marijuana contain more than 0.3% THC. Hemp also contains another chemical compound, cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound that is reported to have medicinal properties. 

Previously Illegal Hemp Now Legal to Grow In All 50 States

The Farm Bill of 2014 marked a turning point in the cultivation of hemp, which had been made illegal by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Farm Bill officially defined hemp by its THC content, which allowed for increased growth for research and industrial usage.

The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal to grow in all 50 states, which Wisconsin had adopted through the passage of its own act the previous year.

According to the Kenosha News, Wisconsin currently has more than 1,400 licensed hemp growers and nearly 700 processors, with 39 in Kenosha County alone. Those farms take up 239 acres across the county, and are easy to spot—which made the thefts all the more baffling to Sgt. Christopher Hannah of the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department.

"If it's an illegal marijuana operation, it's not going to be growing along the roadside for everyone to see," he said. "The person is going to have illegal activity is not going to do it in plain view."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.