Douglas County Law Enforcement Confirms New Test to Differentiate Marijuana and Hemp
A crime lab in Douglas County, Nebraska, confirmed the efficacy of a test to determine whether seized cannabis is marijuana or hemp, according to Colorado broadcaster KETV.
When industrial hemp was federally legalized in December, it opened up a whole new market and helped legitimize (still unregulated) CBD products. However, this also created an unexpected headache.
The problem with the U.S. classification of hemp is that it is based on THC content, rather than the type of plant. Marijuana (cannabis sativa) is the THC-rich variant in the cannabis plant genus, while hemp (cannabis sativa L.) is 99.7% CBD.
In order to be classified as hemp, the dry herb must contain 0.3% THC or less. But with no reliable test to determine THC content to such a close level, law enforcement could not provide conclusive evidence that a suspect was in possession of marijuana. Individuals could simply claim they had hemp and would never set foot in a courtroom.
Now, the new test – originally developed in Zurich, Switzerland – will help law enforcement solve the hemp/marijuana conundrum.
At this time, testing methods are meant to fit the old laws, where cannabis of all forms was prohibited. But with a new legal limit being set for THC, crime labs need something more precise.
Originally, police used a field test known as the “Duquenois Levine test.” It relies on a chemical reaction that turns purple if it detects the presence of cannabis. The problem is that it does not differentiate between marijuana and hemp.
New Test is Street-Ready
Unlike the old method, the new one can instantly differentiate between marijuana and hemp. Using a simple chemical reaction, the sample turns purple for hemp and blue for marijuana.
Like the Duquenois Levine test, the new method is also meant to be used in the field. However, its role is meant to be preliminary, not conclusive.
First, law enforcement will use the old method to confirm the presence of cannabis. If the sample turns purple, the second test will be administered. Conventional wisdom would dictate forgoing the old method and skipping straight to the new option. However, the latter is three times more expensive, so only a supervisor can administer it once the Duquenois Levine test confirms the sample to be cannabis.
Even if the sample does blue, it needs to be sent to a lab to confirm whether the THC level is above 1% – the threshold assigned to determine whether criminal charges are to be laid.
False Sense of Security
The unintended consequences of hemp legalization may have thrown a wrench into marijuana prosecution in many states, but authorities caution that this is not some sort of passive legalization.
Christine Gabig, the local forensic scientist who validated the test in Douglas County, warns:
“There is no big crisis. Everybody was saying that nobody could get in trouble anymore for marijuana, or that we essentially legalized marijuana, or that we essentially legalized marijuana and that didn’t happen.”
Douglas County is the only location in Nebraska using this new test. But if successful, it will likely spread to other law enforcement agencies to combat the current leg.