Hemp Or Pot? The Question Vexing Growers

The public opinion towards hemp and marijuana is currently undergoing a tremendous shift in America, reversing nearly a century of thinking towards a plant that has been utilized by humans for medicinal and industrial purposes dating back to an estimated 5000 BC. This movement presents an enormous range of issues, from challenging societal norms to legal ramifications, all of which have been pushed to the forefront of debate amongst both proponents and detractors. That said, federal law has already been implemented that legalizes hemp and has enjoyed widespread support amongst both political parties, while on a state-wide basis marijuana is becoming an increasingly hot-button topic as a number of states have legalized it, others have proposed but not passed legislation, and still others feel it should remain illegal. This has made the federal legalization of hemp an increasingly complex issue, as hemp is nearly indistinguishable from marijuana in its raw form, and as a result intra-state commerce amongst states with differing laws on the matter has created a grey area that is impacting law enforcement and producers alike.


In simple terms, imagine a cultivator of hemp in Kentucky is shipping their product for processing in Colorado, but must travel through a state where marijuana is illegal – such as Oklahoma. If police pull them over, how can they differentiate between hemp and marijuana, which can appear to be one in the same? The answer is that they cannot without testing equipment to determine its legal status. Currently the legal defining threshold is .3%.  Over .3% is defined as marijuana. Under .3% is considered hemp. In the past all that was necessary was a simple chemical test that would qualify if any THC was present. Now, with new rules and definitions compliance and enforcement must “quantify” (determine the amount of THC) in a product. So, a scenario would be police would seize a shipment of indistinguishable  product, which is perishable. They would also arrest those in possession of it, despite their potential innocence in the matter. And if it’s determined to be a legal crop the police would then be liable for any damage done to the crop during seizure and storage – which could cost local municipalities untold monetary damages, beyond any legal action those arrested may take. This is not a hypothetical question, it is the exact scenario that Oklahoma legal authorities have found themselves in as they seized an 18,000-pound shipment of hemp in January, 2019 worth an estimated $500,000. 

One may ask how this could be avoided?

Lab testing / certification would seem to be a simple answer, but when presented with 18,000 pounds of what seems to be marijuana police may not be inclined to trust a certificate originating state lab that illustrates the plant matter in question is in fact adhering to the federally mandated legal limit of .3% THC. Of course, law enforcement could then send a sample for testing themselves to confirm the legality of the product in question – but that can take weeks, in which time the product they’ve seized could degrade, mold and otherwise become worthless, leaving them liable. There is, however, a solution to this conundrum –lab accurate equipment that can be mobilized or at least be accessible for fast accurate quantification of THC levels.

Any mobile test must be reliable, as false positives would quickly trigger their own set of issues. Enter HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography), considered to be the standard for lab testing technology for cannabinoid potency. While this requires a complex set of chemicals that can require a PHD in chemistry to properly prepare, there are pre-prepared solutions that can be easily, quickly, and efficiently employed in the field with minimal training in less than 30 minutes. Such a solution solves the problem of reliability of prior certification as well as the delay of lab testing. While it does create an added monetary burden on law enforcement, it also provides them with the wherewithal to enforce both local and federal legislation. The investment is one worth making to avoid the potential pitfall that Oklahoma law enforcement finds themselves in.

This testing solution provides not only the ability to regulate intrastate hemp commerce, but also enforce local laws about CBD – another increasingly murky legal subject. CBD is also subject to federal law of .3% THC or less, though local legislation differs from state to state. Many products state their THC content as being within federal guidelines, but have nonetheless been subject to seizure by law enforcement concerned about their potency and availability to the public. A mobile testing solution provides agents of the law the ability to test any suspicious product with ease.

This type of testing is not only an aid to law enforcement, but also to those farmers growing hemp and extractors producing hemp-derived products such as CBD.  Cultivators can easily document the level of THC in their product during the entire growing cycle, ensuring that no crop surpasses the federal legal level of .3% THC. Not only does this provide them with assurance throughout the growing cycle that their crop will be salable, but it also gives them further insurance and proof should their crop ever be seized by law enforcement.

While hemp and CBD are quickly proving their value commercially and medicinally there is a growing need for clarity and accuracy regarding their chemical content – both for peace of mind for consumers, and enforcement from a legal perspective. As the industry continues to explode, it is imperative that the testing options grow alongside it to ensure transparency. While not as readily available as static testing labs, there are mobile solutions that can match their lab counterparts – and they are becoming increasingly necessary for everyone involved in this fast-growing industry.

David “Cree” Crawford is a seasoned C-Level business development / management executive with over 25 years documented success in developing, operating, and growing successful operations from concept to multi-million dollar organizations. Cree is Co-Founder and President of Green Ocean Sciences Inc. “Ionization Labs”, developers of a cannabis and hemp chemical analytics solution called Cann-ID.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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Photo by Javier Hasse.