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Looks Like the DEA Needs Help Finding the Difference between Marijuana and Hemp

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The DEA has asked for inputs from different companies who can provide them with field-testing kits capable of differentiating marijuana from hemp. The notice was posted on the website dedicated to business opportunities at the federal level. According to the DEA, they are currently in the process of conducting market research for the test kits and other instruments that can help them to easily identify if the sample contains less than 0.3% of THC.

The kit should be able to specifically distinguish between marijuana and hemp. It should be durable and portable enough to be used in a non-lab environment or under ambient conditions.

Legalization of Hemp

After the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Controlled Substances Act now exempts hemp, along with its derivatives, from the regulation. But since both marijuana and hemp are cultivars of cannabis, identifying the differences between them may difficult. Legally, cannabis plants that have a THC of less than 0.3% are considered hemp and anything more than 0.3% is considered marijuana and is still illegal federally.

The distinction between hemp and marijuana has triggered confusion among law enforcers who could encounter shipments of hemp during their road inspection. They already have field tests that can determine the presence of THC but such an instrument is not capable of determining the amount of THC in a particular sample. Currently, the only way to figure out the level of THC in a sample is to undergo laboratory tests.

Hemp Shipment Seized

In January, four people were detained after they were caught transporting 18,000 pounds of hemp in a highway in Oklahoma. After conducting a field test, they were able to determine that the shipment had THC. Thus, they took the drivers into custody, along with the two persons who were accompanying the shipment for security.

But because there was a government shutdown at that time, testing of the shipment was delayed until the 25th of January. Because of this, both drivers spent a lot of time in jail. They were able to pay the bail only after spending six days in prison. But they insist that they shouldn’t have been apprehended in the first place.

Developing a Reliable Test for Field Use

The shipment is still within the threshold to be considered industrial hemp, which means that it contains less than 0.3% of the THC and is definitely not marijuana. The shipment has been analyzed on a microscope but according to the District Attorney’s office, there’s no such test. It’s not possible to determine whether the sample is marijuana or hemp by merely looking at it with a microscope.

However, according to the CEO of a cannabis-testing lab in Canada, it may not be easy to come up with a reliable test instrument for field use. Also, the biggest concern would be the accuracy of the field test. In order to be considered industrial hemp, it should have less than 0.3% of THC. When considering 0.3%, the accuracy of the tool and the skills of the operator will be in question.

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