How does Law Enforcement Tell Cannabis and Hemp Apart?

By July 29, 2019 No Comments
law enforcement tell cannabis and hemp apart

Anytime you’re pulled over by law enforcement and have cannabis and hemp products in your vehicle – panic can set in. Even if the products are legal where you live, it’s still an uncomfortable situation to be in. Do I have more than I’m supposed to? Am I going to be arrested? These are common questions that can go through your mind. When it comes to cannabis and hemp, law enforcement is at a significant disadvantage just due to the lack of technology currently available.

Law enforcement agencies have few resources to utilize when it comes to telling cannabis and hemp apart. There are roadside tests that can detect THC already in use. Field sobriety tests can be administered to determine impairment. But what if you have a hemp product like CBD oil, vape or flower? This is where things get a little tricky.

In this guide, well take a look at the current challenges and what solutions are becoming available.

Current Testing Constraints for Cannabis and Hemp

Most law enforcement officials have been trained to detect the odor of cannabis. That gives them probable cause to search your vehicle in non-recreationally legal states. In medical cannabis-legal states, they’ll just likely ask if you have the proper certification and may ask to see what you have in your vehicle. This is just to establish if you are within your limit of possession for your state.

If you are asked if your vehicle can be searched to see how much product you have – it’s best to comply, even if you may be over your possession limit.

What happens in states that have decriminalized cannabis possession? Law enforcement will likely weigh your dry flower and look at any other products that you may have. Will you get to keep your cannabis? Most likely not. Some law enforcement agencies are still instructed to confiscate cannabis even if you are within the decriminalized possession limit. You’ll get a civil citation instead of a trip to jail as long as you don’t have more than you’re supposed to.

What tests do law enforcement agencies have available today? Simple roadside tests that can detect THC. Breathalyzers that can detect THC are also in use in some areas in test phases. The breathalyzers can detect if cannabis or THC products have been consumed within about 2 hours. Saliva tests are also being implemented in some areas. These can also detect the recent consumption of a THC-containing product.

someone being detained

But, what if the product you have is CBD from hemp plants? If it isn’t CBD isolate, it can still test positive for THC since hemp CBD products contain 0.3% THC or less. So, because the test will still come up positive, you risk going to jail where cannabis is not legal in any form or risk another type of criminal citation where only CBD is legal.

This poses a big problem. Most law enforcement forensic labs across the country only have the capability to determine that THC is detectable – not how much. New technology, however, is hoping to put an end to that confusion.

New Swiss Technology for Telling Cannabis and Hemp Apart

A company in Zurich, Switzerland has developed a roadside test for law enforcement agencies that can tell the difference between THC and CBD.  The test still can’t say how much THC is in a product, but this could still be an instrumental testing option for law enforcement agencies across the U.S. Samples of the test kits are being evaluated by the DEA and are also being tested in Virginia. Florida is also planning on trying these tests out.

The Swiss-developed tests will turn a purplish-pink color if the sample contains high concentrations of CBD. If the sample contains more THC than CBD, it will turn blue.

This is one way for law enforcement agencies to determine the difference between cannabis and hemp products.

The Cannabis Breathalyzer

Hound Labs has been developing breathalyzers that detect alcohol and cannabis for several years. The device detects the presence of THC and/or alcohol in your breath. It’s suggestive that a positive reading would suggest that someone consumed cannabis or a product containing THC within the last 2 or so hours.

Hound Labs says that the breathalyzer can measure the amount of THC in someone’s breath. Some states do have set amounts of THC that they consider to be too much to operate a vehicle. In some states, it is 5 nanograms.

Several law enforcement agencies have had success in testing this new technology. With concern to being on the side of the road for any period of time, the developer has created such advanced technology that returns results in minutes. Some of the currently available tests, such as saliva tests, can take up to 15 minutes to return a result.

You might think you can fool this test if you consume edibles – this is not the case. The test is so sensitive that it can determine if you’ve ingested THC in just about any manner – including edibles.

law enforcement light bar

Current Methods

Right now, law enforcement agencies can request a urine or blood sample to detect THC. These tests can determine how much THC is in the bloodstream or urine – but not when it was consumed. So, this isn’t exactly an accurate way to measure intoxication.

Just because THC has been consumed and may be present in the blood or urine, that doesn’t mean that it was recent and the person is impaired enough to be unable to drive. This is where controversy regarding these methods exists.

Study Regarding Accuracy of Cannabis Intoxication Testing

In a recent study, it was determined that only 1-in-5 roadside cannabis tests is accurate. The study was conducted by the University of Sydney. Hundreds of samples were taken into consideration. This was a controlled study where the participants were administered different amounts of THC. Then, their ability to operate a vehicle was tested.

In this study, there was an instance where someone was given a placebo, and not actual THC but still tested positive.

This is why law enforcement agencies need accurate technology when trying to determine the difference between cannabis and hemp while attempting to determine if someone is too impaired to drive.

police car with blue lights on

Closing Thoughts

Whether cannabis and hemp are legal where you live, driving stoned isn’t the best idea. It’s often compared to driving drunk. Impairment of any kind while operating a vehicle is dangerous. When law enforcement agencies are afforded the right equipment, more accurate numbers of stoned divers could be available.

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