UPDATE: Drug Charges Against Nebraska CBD Shop Owners Dropped
Update JANUARY 14, 2019: The state dropped all criminal charges against the Beguins. Charges were dropped “without prejudice,” meaning the state could choose to reintroduce them again at a later date.
“We are thankful the development,” said attorney Maren Chaloupka in an emailed statement. Chaloupka, from the Scottsbluff-based firm Chaloupka, Holyoke, Snyder, Chaloupka & Longoria, represented the Beguin’s in the case, thanks to the financial assistance of CBD vendors Medterra. Chaloupka told us:
“The Beguins want to provide a homeopathic alternative that is drug-free, to help customers avoid addictive pharmaceuticals. We hope that the Nebraska Legislature will clarify that products that don’t contain THC and don’t get the user high are not illegal, and that the small businesses offering those products are not criminals.”
Update DECEMBER 26, 2018: A second Nebraska CBD shop, located in Bellevue, Nebraska, just south of Omaha, is now under threat from authorities. Though the American Shaman store operated without issue for the past 3 months, police gave owners 2 weeks to close down or face legal action. We’ll continue to update this article as this situation develops.
Last week, police raided a Nebraska CBD shop and arrested the owners.
KB Natural Alternatives, a CBD store in the small city of Scottsbluff, was only open for a day when about a dozen officers arrived to shut them down, according to owners Heather Beguin and her son Dreyson. Now, the pair face felony drug charges. Police accuse them of possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell it to the public.
The arrests occurred just days before the December 20, 2018 passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which fully removed hemp and all hemp-derived substances like CBD from the Controlled Substances Act.
The Beguins’ store sold products by Medterra, a well-known CBD company that creates products from legal industrial hemp. Medterra’s products are rigorously tested to show that they don’t contain illegal amounts of THC, the active ingredient in psychoactive cannabis (“marijuana”) which makes people feel high.
In an email, Medterra leadership told us they’re standing by the Beguins and will cover the pair’s legal expenses.
“As a company, Medterra stands behind the legality of our products and our partners right to sell it,” wrote Jay Hartenbach, Medterra’s CEO. “The CBD industry is one of compassion and we fully intend to support our partners as they help us raise awareness to those in need.”
Despite this welcome assistance, the Beguins are still struggling with the emotional, physical, financial and legal consequences of their arrests.
“I know and believe in what we’re doing, but this has set me and my body back after I worked so hard to recover,” said a distraught-sounding Heather, when we spoke by phone.
SHOP OWNER DISCOVERED CBD AFTER CAR WRECK
Heather discovered the benefits of CBD in the painful aftermath of a July 2018 car accident. As a recovering opiate addict, she wanted to avoid using the pain medication doctors prescribed after the wreck.
“I wasn’t really thrilled about putting [opiates] back into my body because of the risk that maybe I still like that feeling.”
Trying to “tough it out” through the pain only slowed her healing, however. Dreyson, who was living in Florida at the time, suggested CBD.
“If you can’t rest, you can’t heal,” she recalled Dreyson telling her. After she found that topical CBD helped ease her lingering pain and inflammation, she wanted to find a way to share CBD with others. Soon, Dreyson moved back home to Scottsbluff to help her open KB Natural Alternatives.
NEBRASKA CBD SHOP ARRESTS HIGHLIGHT COMPLEXITIES OF US HEMP LAWS
Scottsbluff is a city of about 15,000 people, about 450 miles west of Omaha. At the same time as police were handcuffing the Beguins in Nebraska, people were freely smoking legal recreational cannabis just over two hours away in Colorado without fear of legal reprisal. In Austin, Texas, where this reporter lives, you can buy similar CBD oil supplements at Whole Foods’ flagship store.
This isn’t the first time that police launched a crackdown on a local CBD business selling otherwise legal products. During the summer of 2017, state police raided 57 stores selling CBD products in Indiana. In March of this year, Indiana passed a new state law clarifying that CBD oil supplements are legal.
“I just hope our public officials learn from the other states that hemp is clearly different from marijuana.”
The timing of the Nebraska CBD shop arrests makes the severe treatment faced by the Beguins even more shocking. On December 13, a full week before the President signed the Farm Bill, the Alabama state Attorney General announced they would back down from threats to prosecute CBD vendors. Today, Michigan legislators passed a pair of bills supporting hemp, one of which clearly affirms the legality of CBD oil products.
In an interview with local news, Gunhee Park, an Omaha hemp entrepreneur, called the arrests “sad” and suggested Nebraska police and politicians should follow other states’ examples.
“I just hope our public officials learn from the other states that hemp is clearly different from marijuana,” Park told KETV anchor David Earl.
(Ministry of Hemp launched in 2014 with the help of Park’s Libertas Ventures LLC.)
POLICE RAID LEAVES NEBRASKA CBD SHOP OWNERS TRAUMATIZED
The Beguins knew opening KB Natural Alternatives posed a legal risk, but neither expected police to respond with arrests or felony charges. Heather said she even knows of people in Scottsbluff selling CBD online.
Before opening, Heather and Dreyson visited the local police chief. The pair brought along a sample of Medterra’s CBD products and lab tests proving that Medterra is free from illegal THC. Though the chief insisted CBD is illegal in Nebraska, he refused when Heather offered to leave the products behind. Now, the pair are facing felony charges for possessing the same supplements.
KB Natural Alternatives opened on December 13. The following afternoon, police arrived in force, arresting both owners. Police even detained and interrogated Heather’s friend that was visiting the shop. Officers refused to show the Beguin’s a search warrant, then spent hours coming through the shop.
Heather was bonded out of jail after just a few hours, because her mother and Heather’s youngest son unexpectedly dropped by the store to find police there instead of Heather and Dreyson. The younger son had a “bad feeling” that led them to check on his mother.
“We’re a very connected family,” Heather said. “We’re very close.”
The family couldn’t afford to do the same for Dreyson, so he spent the weekend in jail. He wasn’t released until late afternoon on Monday.
Dreyson and Heather were clearly shaken by their experience. Both sounded near tears at various points during our phone conversation. Though Dreyson said spending the weekend in jail was hard, he sounded more upset about seeing his mother arrested.
Even after just one day of business, other Scottsbluff residents worry about losing access to CBD.
“I have customers calling me crying, texting me,” Heather said.
MEDTERRA OFFERS LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO NEBRASKA CBD SHOP OWNERS
We interviewed Heather and Dreyson Beguin on Wednesday, December 19. By Thursday, Medterra had been in touch to offer their support.
“We started this company to create products that help our friends and family, Medterra cofounder J.P. Larsen told us. “Our core value of helping people will always be our number one priority.”
Hartenbach told us he was helping the Beguin family find an attorney, and that Medterra would cover their attorney fees. Larsen seemed confident that they would win the case. Both legal precedent and the newly passed Farm Bill are on their side.
“We feel way more confident now, just the humiliation is taking a toll.”
“The Beguins took every step possible to ensure that they were selling Federally-compliant and quality CBD products,” Larsen wrote. “We hope that this case, such as many others, will be dismissed once the proper facts are conveyed.”
Reached today by Facebook messenger, Heather said she feels relieved.
“We feel way more confident now, just the humiliation is taking a toll.”
WILL NEBRASKA EMBRACE A HEMPY FUTURE, OR REMAIN STUCK IN THE PAST?
Nebraska officials seem unmoved by the landmark hemp legalization signed into law this week, at least according to Suzanne Gage, spokesperson for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.
“Unless amended by the Nebraska Legislature, all CBD products in Nebraska are still illegal under the Nebraska Uniformed Controlled Substance Act,” Gage told KETV. “The recently passed Farm Bill did not alter existing Nebraska law on this issue at this point in time.”
Statements like these make Gunhee Park afraid that his state is going to miss out on a billion dollar industry, along with hemp’s numerous other benefits.
“For our state to so staunchly say no, especially being an agricultural state, is confounding.”
Although Medterra is stepping up to support the Beguins, they’ll still have numerous additional expenses to deal with in the aftermath of their arrests and the closure of their business.
A close friend, Melinda Walsh, established a GoFundMe fundraiser to support Heather and Dreyson Beguin. Ministry of Hemp donated, and we encourage our readers and others in the hemp industry to help out if they can.
Both Heather and Dreyson will return to court later this month for preliminary court hearings. We’ll continue to update this story as it develops.