First came laughter, then tears. Lots of tears.
Mamadou Ndiaye was understandably emotional as he learned he will not face trial and the threat of a criminal conviction for possessing two ounces of CBD oil.
“This is the best day of my life,” Ndiaye told WTHR, as he read a court order dismissing his case in Hamilton County Superior Court.
“I did not do anything wrong,” he said, choking back tears. “And for the past eight months, I still suffered for it. I will never forget that day. Never.”
Ndiaye is talking about July 12, 2017, when a Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputy pulled him over on his way home from work. He was stopped for suspicion of driving with a suspended license. The filmmaker and youth soccer coach was handcuffed along US 31 at 1:12 a.m., and when the deputy searched Ndiaye’s car, he found a small bottle of CBD oil. The sheriff issued Ndiaye a criminal citation for possession of marijuana, which carries a fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail.
“I was terrified. I have been in this country for 17 years and never had any trouble with the law. I know better than that,” said Ndiaye, who moved to the United States from Senegal. “Where I come from, we use hemp oil to grow hair. That’s all I was doing. I was not breaking the law.”
Thousands of Hoosiers use CBD oil to ease chronic pain, seizures, anxiety and other medical conditions. But because the product comes from cannabis plants – the plant that produces marijuana — its legal status in Indiana has been the source of confusion and debate. While marijuana has high levels of THC and can cause users to feel high, CBD oil comes from a different kind of cannabis called industrial hemp. It has little or no THC and causes no high at all.
A 9-month WTHR investigation showed law enforcement and state leaders still confused about the differences between marijuana and CBD oil. That confusion prompted state and local police departments to raid businesses, confiscate CBD oil, and issue citations and fines – even though they did not fully understand the law.
To underscore that point, 13 Investigates tested the brand of CBD oil the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department seized during last year’s traffic stop. According to results from a certified lab in Michigan, the type of CBD oil confiscated from Ndiaye’s car contained 0.00% THC. Nonetheless, Ndiaye faced a May 2018 trial date for allegedly possessing marijuana.
After WTHR highlighted the dilemma facing Ndiaye and thousands of Hoosiers, Governor Holcomb called on state lawmakers to fix the confusion. The General Assembly responded last month by passing a bill that legalizes CBD oil with up to .3% THC for all Hoosiers. The governor signed the bill into law in late March, and it took effect immediately.
Just a few days later, Hamilton County deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Wehmueller filed a motion to dismiss Ndiaye’s case, specifically citing the state’s new CBD law. Hamilton County Superior Court judge Richard Campbell agreed with the motion and signed an order to dismiss the case.
“This is a big relief. I am very thankful,” Ndiaye told WTHR.
He also expressed gratitude to the General Assembly and governor for legalizing CBD oil in Indiana, as well as the Noblesville attorney who took an interest in his case. Samuel Robinson, a lawyer with Church Church Hittle & Antrim, agreed to provide free legal assistance to Ndiaye after watching his story on WTHR. Robinson obtained several delays in the case to give the state legislature time to enact a new law that legalizes CBD oil. He said the recent decision to dismiss criminal charges against Ndiaye was the right decision.
“I was very happy for Mamadou,” the attorney said. “It was absolutely the proper thing to be done based upon the confusion of the prior laws and the recent clarification.”
Ndiaye says he has no plans to stop using CBD oil. He is looking forward to putting the 8-month ordeal behind him.
“There were nights I wasn’t able to sleep thinking about it,” he said. “Now, I will sleep tonight knowing it is taken care of.”