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The DEA is Searching for Field Test Kits to Differentiate Hemp and Marijuana

The DEA put out an open call for hemp testing kits.

The DEA is Searching for Field Test Kits to Differentiate Hemp and Marijuana
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The Drug Enforcement Agency has requested input from companies who may be able to provide field test kits that can differentiate hemp from marijuana. In a notice posted to the federal business opportunities website, the DEA said it is conducting market research to obtain drug test kits or instruments that can determine if a sample of cannabis contains more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight.

“The field test kit must provide specificity to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. It must be portable and rugged enough to be used in non-laboratory environments or ambient conditions,” the notice reads.

With the legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, the crop and its derivatives have now been exempted from regulation by the Controlled Substances Act. But with hemp and marijuana both cultivars of the cannabis plant, telling the difference between the two is not an easy task. By the legal definition, cannabis plants with a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent are considered hemp. Any more than that is classified as marijuana and still federally illegal.

The distinction has caused confusion for members of law enforcement who encounter shipments of hemp during the performance of their duties. Field tests to determine the presence of THC in a sample already exist, but they are not sensitive enough to quantify how much THC a test sample contains. Determining the quantity of THC is currently only possible through laboratory tests conducted with sensitive instruments.

Hemp Shipment Seized

In January, four men were arrested while transporting an 18,000-pound load of hemp in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. After a field test determined that the load contained THC, police took into custody two truck drivers and two members of a security detail that were accompanying the shipment. Because of the federal government shutdown that was going on at the time, testing on the shipment at a DEA lab was delayed until January 25. Tadesse Deneke and Farah Warsame, the two truck drivers, spent more than a month in jail. Andrew Ross and David Dirksen, the security officers, were able to make bail after spending six days in jail. Dirksen says that they shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.

“It’s definitely within the threshold of being industrial hemp,” Dirksen said. “It’s definitely not marijuana. Doesn’t smell like marijuana, doesn’t look like marijuana.”

Attorney Frank Robison said that the Osage County District Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the four men, told him that the shipment had been analyzed under a microscope and determined to be marijuana, not hemp.

“To be very clear, there is no such test,” Robison said. “You cannot determine whether or not its hemp or marijuana looking at it under a microscope.”

Rob McIntyre, the CEO of Salvation Botanicals, which operates a licensed cannabis testing laboratory in Canada, told High Times that it may not be easy to develop a reliable test for field use.

“We would be most concerned about the accuracy of a field test,” McIntyre said. “The qualifications for industrial hemp vs marijuana is a 0.3  percent THC content. When taking down 0.3 percent, the skill of the operator and the accuracy of equipment is in question.”

With a similar case also in January of a hemp shipment being seized by police in Idaho, it’s clear a solution to protect interstate hemp shipments is needed. Companies that believe they can provide products that meet the DEA requirements or offer more information about the matter are encouraged to respond to the government notice by March 15.

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