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Hemp start-up blames Fulda public prosecutor for bankruptcy | hessenschau.de

The once highly regarded start-up Green Pioneers has filed for bankruptcy. The founders say that the criminal investigation into the possible intoxicating effects of their cannabis oil products destroyed their business.

In 2018, three young men founded a company in Fulda to sell their own commercial hemp products. The start went very well for the Green Pioneers. The public took notice and the start-up reached the semi-finals of the competition for the Hessian Founder’s Prize.

Even the then European Minister Lucia Puttrich (CDU) announced her visit to the Green Pioneers – but then canceled it. That had to do with what happened to the once-hopeful start-up over the past three years. Anyone who visits the founders today will hardly believe what they see.

Products in the evidence room

Philipp Gärtner and Kerim Viebrock stand in front of the half-empty shelves of their former warehouse. They seem exhausted and discouraged. Sad memories come back as they pack up the last bottles of CBD oils, soap packets and tins of lip balm. You must dispose of anything that has expired and is no longer for sale.

Further information

CBD products

CBD products, which celebrities and influencers also report on, are in demand because of their alleged effectiveness against various ailments. CBD is the abbreviation for the active ingredient cannabidiol, which is found in hemp. Oil enriched with it and products such as gummy bears, chewing gum and cosmetics are offered on the Internet. It is not CBD, but THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that is responsible for the intoxicating effect of cannabis.

End of further information

Philipp Gärtner says: “There is so much work involved in getting a product like this into the pharmacy. We had it inspected and certified.” Kerim Viebrock adds: “The products had already been sold. And could not be delivered because they are now in the police evidence room.”

You can hear how bitter they find it. After all, they have just filed for bankruptcy for their company, Green Pioneers. What happened?

Investigations since 2021

The Fulda public prosecutor’s office suspects that you can get high using the start-up’s commercial hemp products – if you just take enough of them. The Green Pioneers’ CBD oil in particular aroused the investigators’ suspicions. It contains the substance cannabidiol, which has a relaxing effect.

According to the Green Pioneers, the intoxicating active ingredient THC is only contained in trace amounts in their specially bred commercial hemp plants. The founders are sure that they complied with the legal limits – which also applied at the time. The public prosecutor nevertheless began investigating the Green Pioneers. That was in 2021, a few years after the company was founded. The authority charged in July 2022 Charge of negligent cannabis trafficking.

In the following trial, the Fulda district court acquitted the founders. Swallowing so much CBD oil that it would be enough to cause a cannabis high is factually and therefore also excluded in terms of the law. Simply because the amount required would be far too expensive.

An acquittal without meaning

However, the Fulda public prosecutors appealed against the verdict – a new trial before the next higher instance, the regional court, is still pending.

First the suspicion of illegal cannabis trafficking, then the house search and confiscation of products, finally the indictment, the first trial with an acquittal, followed by an appeal and a second trial: a chain of events that even surprises the Green Pioneers’ lawyer. Kai-Friedrich Niermann has a lot of experience with cannabis and hemp case law.


Philipp Gärtner and Kerim Viebrock from the Fulda hemp start-up Green Pioneers are standing in their warehouse, which they now have to clear out

Niermann reports that the dispute over industrial hemp is usually conducted at the administrative level. This mostly concerns the evaluation of CBD products in food law. It is rather unusual that manufacturers are prosecuted under criminal law. Niermann states: “I would say the situation we had in Fulda is an isolated case.”

The lawyer clearly expresses that he cannot understand the actions of the Fulda public prosecutor’s office: “If you don’t have enough to do, then you can of course try to have it clarified in court – whether it has any criminal relevance or not.”

Image damage – the deep fall

But even if the Green Pioneers were to win in the second case, it would no longer be of much use to them. From the outset, the founders publicly complained about the irreparable damage to their company’s image caused by the investigations.

Philipp Gärtner believes that he and his partners now have to pay a high price for this – in the form of bankruptcy: “I have the feeling that we have stepped on their toes and that we should therefore be made an example of.” In his opinion, the investigators “will therefore exhaust every legal remedy they can use against us.”

The public prosecutor’s office even reported a number of its trading partners. One after the other they dropped them. The network they had laboriously built had collapsed. All of this led to the bankruptcy of her start-up.

The public prosecutor rejects the allegations

And exactly at that time the new cannabis law came into force. Since April 1st, the intoxicating THC is no longer necessarily considered an illegal narcotic. Cultivation and possession of cannabis are permitted under certain conditions. As things stand, this partial legalization plays no role in the proceedings against the Green Pioneers and comes too late for them.

It seems paradoxical: just as the use of the drug becomes more open, the pioneers of harmless industrial hemp are at their end. Because of their care products.

In response to an HR request, the Fulda public prosecutor’s office commented in writing on the case and the founders’ allegations. Their actions were “in no way influenced by the media appearance of the accused” but were “always objective”.

In addition, the authority explains that it is not free to investigate or not in a case like that of the Green Pioneers. If there are indications of possible misuse of CBD products, it is obliged to investigate. The partial liberalization of cannabis does not change this.

Further information

Broadcast: hr4, May 13, 2024, 12:30 p.m

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