An incident that occurred on May 8 raises questions about whether the Kernersville Police Department is aware that industrial hemp products are legal in North Carolina.
On that date, Detective J. N. Smith entered the AAA Quick Mart (744 Piney Grove Rd.) and removed eight units of â€śHemp Symmetryâ€ť products manufactured by the Asheboro-based company Founderâ€™s Hemp. The seizure resulted in no arrests and no charges being filed.
But it deprived store owner Malik Aslam of merchandise with a wholesale cost of $116.92 and a retail value is $222.92. Those prices were verified by attorney Bob Crumley, who co-wrote the statute making industrial hemp legal in North Carolina and founded Founderâ€™s Hemp, the stateâ€™s first registered hemp processor, and supplier of the confiscated merchandise.
On July 31, I contacted the office of Kernersville Police Chief Tim Summers about the incident and was referred to Captain Kevin Clodfelter in the Investigative & Technical Services Bureau. I asked Captain Clodfelter if there was an ongoing investigation and whether or not the confiscated product, which I understood to be legal in North Carolina, would be returned. Captain Clodfelter said he needed to speak to Detective Smithâ€™s commanding officer, and that either that officer or Captain Clodfelter himself would call me back the next day.
That call never came, but on Aug. 2, Detective Smith returned the product to the business from which sheâ€™d confiscated it on May 8, unopened and in its original packaging.
Those are the basic facts of the incident, which my publisher and editor became aware of when Crumley approached them in mid-July. Due to Aslam having spent most of August visiting family in Pakistan, I was not able to get his direct account until Aug. 31, when he confirmed what Crumley had told YES! Weekly publisher and editor several weeks before. Despite further inquiries, it remains unclear why Detective Smith removed a legal product from Aslamâ€™s store.
Aslam said Detective Smith did not show him a search warrant and gave him no reason for the seizure. â€śShe just took it without any explanation,â€ť Aslam said in a phone conversation on Aug. 30. â€śShe did not ask permission, but just gave me a piece of paper on which she listed what she was taking.â€ť
Aslam described Detective Smith as entering his store in the company of two men. One of the men handed him a business card with the FBI logo on it above the name David M. Brown and the title Task Force Officer. The other identified himself as an ALE agent, but as Aslam said, he did not give his name.
â€śI knew that the ABC people come once in a while and do inspections, and thatâ€™s fine,â€ť Aslam said. â€śBut this time, when they came, they searched everything.â€ť
He said he asked what they were doing and was told that it was a normal inspection. â€śBut this was not a normal inspection. After the men searched and found nothing, Detective Smith just took the product, which was sitting on the counter in plain sight.â€ť
Crumley provided YES! Weekly with a photocopy of the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts) CR-206 form titled INVENTORY OF ITEMS SEIZED PURSUANT TO SEARCH (all boldface words or phrases in this article are verbatim quotes of what was printed on the form) that Detective Smith allegedly left with Aslam as a receipt for the confiscated product.
Under the line I, the undersigned officer, executed a search of, is listed the address 744 Piney Grove Road. Kernersville, NC, 27284 (italics are used to indicate the handwritten portions of the document, quoted verbatim here and below). Under that is the following section consisting of a heading and then three numbered lines preceded by checkboxes.
This search was made pursuant to:
1) A search warrant was issued byÂ Â ______________________________
2) Consent to search was given by ______________________________
3) Other legal justification for the searchÂ _________________________
None of the three boxes are checked and nothing is written on the blank lines. Below that is the heading: The following items were seized. The rest of the form is filled out by hand, and reads thusly:
Malik Aslam released the following items to Detective J. N. Smith of the Kernersville Police Department.
(4) Hemp Symmetry CBD Gummies 5mg
(3) Hemp Symmetry CBD Tincture 300mg
(1) Hemp Symmetry CBD Tincture 250mg
Despite the use or the word â€śundersigned,â€ť Detective Smithâ€™s signature does not appear on the document, and neither does Aslamâ€™s.
In mid-July, YES! Weekly editor Katie Murawski and publisher Charles Womack called Detective Smith and asked her about the incident. While I was not present, I have listened to and transcribed the recording.
When Womack mentioned the apparently incomplete nature of the AOC form, Detective Brown responded by saying, â€śI donâ€™t understand what youâ€™re asking. What are you asking me?â€ť
Smith confirmed that there was no search warrant, asserting â€śhe released those items to me voluntarily.â€ť Detective Smithâ€™s claim that the release was â€śvoluntaryâ€ť is disputed by Aslam, but is not the only point at which Detective Smithâ€™s statements contradict subsequent information. Detective Smith denied being responsible for the search and seizure. â€śALE, Alcohol Law Enforcement, was the one that did the search. So, youâ€™d have to call and talk to them.â€ť
Murawski pointed out that only Detective Smithâ€™s name is on the AOC document. â€śThe ALE officerâ€™s name is not on here. Do you know who that was?â€ť
â€śYouâ€™ll have to call because it was an ongoing investigation with ALE,â€ť Detective Smith said. â€śThey hit multiple locations on that date. So, youâ€™ll have to call and speak with ALE about that.â€ť
Murawski then asked about the business card left behind with the name David M. Brown and on it. â€śHeâ€™s a Kernersville Police Department task force agent that just happened to be riding with me that day,â€ť Detective Smith said. She cut off further questions by insisting all inquiries be directed to the ALE. â€śThis was not initiated by Kernersville or the FBI or anything like that. This was an ALE investigation. Youâ€™ll have to call them.â€ť
On July 30, the same day I first called the Kernersville Police Department, I also called two other offices. One was that of John W. Wolfe III, legal counsel for the town of Kernersville. Wolfe was out of the office and did not return my call, but I had more success with Rodney Beckom, assistant director at the ALEâ€™s North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and special agent in charge of District 5, which includes Guilford and Forsyth Counties. Over the course of multiple phone conversations, Agent Beckom was friendly, helpful and punctual about calling me back, but repeatedly expressed puzzlement at Detective Smithâ€™s claim that the seizure was the work of his agency.
â€śIâ€™m not sure why the detective said that or what thatâ€™s about,â€ť he told me on July 31. â€śI believe we were more in an assisting role. We wouldnâ€™t have used an AOC form. We would have used one our own forms, whatâ€™s called an AL-50 Inventory Report, had we seized the product. Apparently, she seized the product.â€ť
Later that day, he called me back with the following clarification. â€śMy understanding is that she seized that material through consent to have it tested. Now whether that was sent off, whether it was tested, I donâ€™t know. I guess sheâ€™ll return it, but Iâ€™m a little perplexed. The material she was looking at was CBD Oil, which wasnâ€™t even what we were looking at. We were looking at other outlets in Winston-Salem and in Forsyth County that we suspected of selling synthetic marijuana.â€ť
Due to my putting this article on hold until I could speak to Aslam, I did not speak to Agent Beckom again until Aug. 31, when he gave me the following statement.
â€śKernersville seized that evidence. The detective brought that particular location in Kernersville to our attention as one to do, but we didnâ€™t do that case. They seized the evidence on that. Iâ€™m still not sure why sheâ€™s saying it was ALE.â€ť
On Aug. 31, I called Aslam, who recently returned from his trip to Pakistan. He said that when he returned from Pakistan in late August, he found that the product had been returned to his store and that the daily log indicated that Detective Smith brought it back on Aug. 2, the day after I first informed her superiors that the ALE was telling a different story than she had. When I later told Captain Clodfelter about this statement, he acknowledged that Detective Smith was the one who returned the product but didnâ€™t comment on the timing.
â€śShe returned the whole product, saying it was okay,â€ť Aslam said, although he acknowledged that he didnâ€™t hear say this and is relying on his employeeâ€™s notes (the employee couldnâ€™t be reached for comment). He speculated that the items might have been taken so that they could be tested, â€śButÂ I donâ€™t think they did. They were returned unopened, in their original packaging. The seals are not broken.â€ť
On Sept. 5, I called Captain Clodfelter back at the Kernersville Police Department, seeking clarification on the conflicting claims, in which both Agent Beckom and Aslam had stated the seizure was entirely the work of Detective Smith, but Smith said that was done by the ALE. I asked Captain Clodfelter why the product was seized and why it was returned three months later without any apparent testing.
â€śThatâ€™s a good question,â€ť he said. â€śI didnâ€™t know anything about it until we spoke about it. On its face, I donâ€™t know that [the product seized] is illegal. Some of these cannabinoids, or whatever, synthetic cannabinoids, some are illegal; some are legal, I donâ€™t know. We donâ€™t make the laws.â€ť
I explained the seized items were manufactured by a company founded by Crumley, the lawyer and industrial hemp advocate who helped write the law in North Carolina making this product legal.
â€śI donâ€™t know who that is,â€ť Captain Clodfelter said. â€śIâ€™m just telling you that I canâ€™t just look at something and identify that itâ€™s illegal to possess. Whether that particular item is illegal or not, I donâ€™t have any evidence that it is â€“ well, the lab has a backlog, and they have their own issues with testing illicit drugs and things like that. If thereâ€™s no evidence that itâ€™s illegal to possess, thereâ€™s no need for us to have it.â€ť
I said I didnâ€™t understand why Detective Smith said the seizure was conducted by the ALE, not her. I also said that the ALEâ€™s Agent Beckom said it wasnâ€™t their operation and that they wouldnâ€™t have used if an AOC document as a receipt if theyâ€™d taken it.
â€śI donâ€™t know that [Beckom] was there,â€ť Captain Clodfelter said. â€śI was not there, either. But I know there are conflicting stories, with one saying one thing and the other saying the other.â€ť
After speaking to Captain Clodfelter, I contacted Crumley, who gave me the following statement.
â€śAs a lawyer and as a business owner and quite frankly as a citizen, I have concerns when a police officer illegally enters a business and seizes a legal product. On its face, the actions taken by this police officer were clearly wrong. The seizure was without a search warrant, the AOC form showed no probable cause, and in fact, on its face, the product showed that it was a legal product. I have trained multiple law enforcement agencies across North Carolina regarding industrial hemp versus marijuana, and in one of the recent training sessions, I gave this scenario to law enforcement officers, and universally, they have said this should never have happened.
â€śI am very happy that Kernersville has finally decided to return the lawful product to our retailer. But I am still concerned that this illegal seizure ever happened to begin with. I will offer up to Kernersville and to Forsyth County sheriffâ€™s department the same free training that Iâ€™ve done for countless other law enforcement agencies around the state. And that will be to come in and train their officers on the difference between hemp and marijuana. But what I canâ€™t do is to have a law enforcement agency abide by the constitutional rights of a citizen or a shop owner. This seizure should concern us not just because it involves cannabis, but because a law enforcement officer went into a store without a search warrant, seized lawful product, and kept that lawful product from the shop owner for several months. Again, I am very pleased that Kernersville has finally returned the lawful product.â€ť
Crumley also made the following statement about synthetic marijuana or K2 Spice, the sale of which is what Agent Beckom said the ALE was actually investigating in Forsyth County, albeit at locations other than AAA Quick Mart, which Agent Beckom added had never been suspected of selling it.
â€śI fully support law enforcementâ€™s efforts to rid our state of K2 spice or other synthetic marijuana. But what we cannot do in our zeal to enforce the law is break the law. We cannot enter into peopleâ€™s homes or businesses and illegally seize a legal product in order to ferret out the bad product. Law enforcement must follow the rules if they expect citizens to follow the rules.â€ť
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which heâ€™s proud of and none of which heâ€™s ashamed of.