Hemp vs. Marijuana: Causing confusion for police

Updated: Aug. 21, 2019 at 10:02 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Is it hemp or marijuana? Growing demand for the hemp plant is causing problems for police who are responsible for stopping illegal drugs.

Attorney Leslie Ballin says it’s hard to tell.

“The criminal has got a leg up right now on law enforcement that is law enforcement does not have the ability to determine if a substance is hemp or marijuana," said Ballin.

It’s been a national issue since the Farm Bill was signed into law last year, making hemp legal across the country.

The TBI says hemp and marijuana are the same plant, so they look the same.

Hemp has only .3 percent of THC, the chemical that gets you high. Legal marijuana has just under 20 percent, enough to get you high.

The hemp industry is booming in Tennessee.

Since February, the Tennessee Agriculture Department received more than 2,000 license applications to grow hemp.

“It’s very difficult to distinguish between the two,” said Ballin.

Knoxville’s police chief says the booming industry makes officer’s jobs more difficult because it so hard to differentiate between hemp and weed.

“They look the same. They feel the same. People smoke them," said Ballin.

They smell the same too.

“The problem is if you have hemp, the dog will alert on it and until there’s a lab test to show that it’s more than .3 percent of THC then you’re not in violation of the law. But the dog hits on it as if it’s marijuana,” said Ballin.

MPD doesn’t have equipment to test for hemp, and the TBI at this point can only do limited testing at the crime lab in Nashville.

Take the case in Idaho in April. A trucker transporting almost 7,000 pounds of industrial hemp across the state to Colorado was charged and the hemp confiscated.

Idaho police called it the “biggest drug trafficking bust in state history.”

Tests confirmed it was hemp and it was purchased from a licensed Oregon farmer.

The dilemma, even though the Farm Bill made hemp legal, is that it’s illegal in Idaho.

Attorney Leslie Ballin says it's only a matter of time before law enforcement will have the equipment to determine whether you have hemp or marijuana.

The TBI says the state of Tennessee is one of the few states performing THC quantification on plants.

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