Pot or Hemp? It May Be Hard to Tell

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 04, 2019

As the patchwork of pot laws continues to evolve nationwide, that can leave law enforcement in some sticky situations. Perhaps none more so than differentiating between legal hemp and illegal marijuana. "That's because the only way to distinguish hemp and marijuana," according to the AP, "is by measuring their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and officers don't have the testing technology to do so on the spot."

Of course, this trouble could all be avoided if the federal government just legalized it. But until then...

Something Smells Off

Drug dogs can't even sniff out the difference in tetrahydrocannabinol between hemp and marijuana, and neither can the field tests available to law enforcement. In fact, the AP reports that the DEA is asking private companies for tech help in developing more accurate THC detectors. And the consequences for miscalculation can be severe.

Industrial hemp, legalized last year, is often transported by tractor trailers. Meanwhile, 250 pounds of pot can get you 40 years in federal prison. Not to mention the varying degrees of legalization at the state level and regulations on possession and transport. "Kentucky and Oregon are big producers of hemp, and much of what they grow is processed in Colorado," according to the AP. "Companies that transport the plant often drive through Oklahoma and Idaho, which is where some arrests have occurred."

The AP details one of those arrests:

Andrew Ross, a Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, is facing 18 years to life in Oklahoma if convicted after he was arrested in January while providing security for a load of state-certified hemp from Kentucky. Ross and a colleague were riding in a van behind a semi-truck filled with the plant that ran a red light and was pulled over.
Ross said he provided police in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, with the state-issued license for the Kentucky farm that grew the hemp, the license for the Colorado lab that was buying it and chemical analysis paperwork for all 60 sacks of hemp that he said shows it was within federal guidelines for hemp.
That wasn't enough for the officers.

"Nobody wants to see someone in jail for a month for the wrong thing," says DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno. "To enable us to do our job, we have to have something that can help us distinguish." Until they get that help, however, the hemp industry and law enforcement alike will be wondering which weeds are legal and which aren't.

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