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Before violent confrontation with police, man and woman were smoking legal THC-A, attorney says

Pre-rolled joints are for sale at Blue Flowers
Steve Harrison
Stores in Charlotte sell legal THC-A cigarettes.

The man and woman who were arrested at a southwest Charlotte bus stop on Monday for smoking marijuana were actually smoking a legal product called THC-A that closely resembles marijuana, according to their attorney Lauren Newton.

The encounter with police led to a violent confrontation between officers and the man, Anthony Lee, and the woman, Christina Pierre.

As Charlotte police moved to arrest the two, CMPD said an officer struck Pierre several times, including closed-fist punches to her leg while she was on the ground being held by other officers. Police said the strikes were meant to force Pierre into compliance.

Pierre was also hit in the face.

A video of the struggle went viral this week.

But Newton said the police should have never confronted Lee and Pierre, who had just finished working at nearby Bojangles near South Tryon Street and Arrowood Road.

“When the two officers walked up and asked what they were smoking my client held up the THC-A cigarette that she purchased from a local smoke shop in Charlotte and it was almost as though the police were unwilling to believe her,” Newton said.

North Carolina is one of the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to possession of marijuana.

But the state has permissive laws when it comes to regulating hemp products, such as Delta 8, a psychoactive extract, and THC-A, which closely resembles Delta 9 THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

If you eat hemp flower with THC-A, there will be no impact to your body. But if you smoke THC-A, it converts to Delta 9 THC. That will get the user high.

THC-A has become popular in Charlotte in the last year. There are now stores all over the city openly selling THC-A pre-rolled cigarettes and flower that can also be smoked. They include stores like Blue Flowers near SouthPark Mall and Greenlife Remedies on Pineville-Matthews Road.

There are several stores in Charlotte selling legal THC-A.
There are several stores in Charlotte selling legal THC-A.

Sales clerks will give you a receipt to show to the police if you are asked about it.

A THC-A cigarette looks and smells exactly like a Delta 9 THC cigarette.

Phil Dixon with the University of North Carolina’s School of Government is an expert in the state’s hemp laws. He said THC-A has made it all but impossible for police to enforce marijuana laws.

“You have to have a lab to test it,” he said. “And in North Carolina, the state crime lab can’t even do that.”

Newton said she’s working with her clients to determine where they bought the cigarette.

She said the initial conversation between Lee and Pierre and the officers at the bus stop was “calm.”

But she said an officer grabbed Lee by the wrist.

“At that point, my client began questioning what they did wrong,” Newton said.

She said CMPD should know that people are legally buying and smoking THC-A.

There are no laws in North Carolina prohibiting people from smoking it in public.

“The police receive training in drugs and this has been around for a year,” she said. “I would be highly surprised if they hadn’t been trained in what THC-A is. The bottom line is they weren’t taking anything other than you are smoking marijuana. They never asked for a receipt.”

A year ago, Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said his office would no longer prosecute low-level drug possession cases.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.