Legalization of Hemp Causes Problems for U.S. Police

Congress legalized hemp in 2018 with very little fanfare. The plant is thought to be a health supplement and has grown in popularity with the rise of CBD oils. But now, it’s being mistaken for marijuana and causing issues for police searching inter-state vehicles during drug busts.

Hemp and marijuana are nearly identical, except when it comes to the chemical THC. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg

The only way to determine whether a package of the plant is hemp or marijuana is to test its THC levels, and that is a procedure most police aren’t able to do on the spot. Drug-sniffing dogs also don’t have the ability to distinguish between hemp and marijuana, and so will bark at both.

The THC levels are important. There is enough THC in marijuana to get users high, while hemp has almost no THC at all in it. It’s also the reason hemp has been federally legalized while marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Police officers have been trying to carry out some tests in the field of devices to measure THC levels, but in late March the Drug Enforcement Administration issued an open request for businesses with technologies sensitive enough to determine THC levels of marijuana and hemp to come forward and work together with their officers.

In a statement DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said: “Nobody wants to see someone in jail for a month for the wrong thing. To enable us to do our job, we have to have something that can help us distinguish.”

As the hemp industry grows, the need for THC determining technology is becoming more urgent. Oregon and Kentucky are two of the biggest hemp-growing states but most of the hemp is sent from them to processing plants in Colorado. The trucks criss-crossing state lines carrying processed and unprocessed hemp are the ones causing all the headaches for DEA officers and police.

And in the states where hemp hasn’t been legalized, like Idaho, the headaches are even bigger.

“It’s the greatest example of the cart being put before the horse that I’ve ever thought of,” said Grant Loebs in an interview with the Associated Press. Loebs is on the board of directors of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which has demanded better testing. “You’re trying to make hemp legal so farmers can grow it, but you haven’t put into place anything that’s going to keep marijuana dealers from taking advantage of a huge loophole.”

This story was first reported by by Gillian Flaccus of the Associated Press with help from AP writer Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles.