Hemp is technically legal in Texas, but proving that hemp is not marijuana can be a hurdle, requiring testing in a licensed laboratory. So, when a truck carrying thousands of pounds of hemp was recently detained by law enforcement near Amarillo, the driver spent weeks in jail awaiting confirmation that the cargo was legal.
In 2019, Texas lawmakers made a distinction between hemp and marijuana based on the level of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in a plant. THC is the major psychoactive agent in marijuana. If a plant has less than 0.3% THC, it is designated hemp.
Hemp is rich in compounds that are prized for their medicinal properties and flavor. The most well-known is CBD, or cannabidiol, which is thought to help with pain, anxiety and depression.
But farmers wanting to grow valuable hemp plants need a way to know that the plants contain little to no THC. While hemp can be legally grown throughout the nation, producers will want to know if their plants’ THC levels are approaching 0.3%, which would classify the plants as marijuana and therefore illegal to have and grow. An easy test for THC would be a boon for farmers as well as for law enforcement.
Up in Tennessee, the problem is also apparent. “There’s no way under a trained eye or even a trained microscope that you can tell the difference between hemp and high grade marijuana, so I think that you can only imagine the investigative nightmare or hurdles that that would present,” said Tommy Farmer, TBI’s Special Agent in Charge over the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force.
“We’ve run into some confusion with law enforcement officers when they encounter plant material in the field as to what it actually can be,” said Mike Lyttle, TBI’s Assistant Director of the Forensic Services Division.
Because marijuana and hemp look and smell the same, even K-9 officers can’t tell the difference.
“It’s the same plant. A dog trained to test for marijuana cannot tell the difference between hemp and marijuana. That dog has now become useless thanks to hemp,” said Lyttle.
The TBI said it has seen cases where some marijuana plants are grown in hemp fields, but it’s nearly impossible to tell without testing the THC levels.
And in Ohio, similar problems have emerged. “Since the legalization of hemp last summer, law enforcement has struggled to enforce Ohio marijuana laws due to an inability to distinguish between marijuana and hemp,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, in the statement. “Expensive private testing was often the only solution.”
Hemp supporters say the crop has the potential to boost the economy and provide a new revenue stream for farmers, manufacturers and vendors, and products for customers around the world.
But a challenge for hemp growers is that cannabinoid levels can fluctuate throughout its growing cycle and the goal is to harvest the crop when CBD levels are highest without the THC levels increasing.
Responding to this gap in the system, scientists at Purpl Scientific developed a highly accurate portable device that can help farmers, buyers, retailers, and law enforcement determine whether a plant is hemp or marijuana.
The team at Purpl Scientific has vast experience in the pharmaceutical testing industry, where accuracy is paramount. They developed a small, portable, affordable system called the Purpl PRO that measures THC and CBD in just seconds. The unit costs under $1500 and the the tests are free so users can test as often as they would like or need.
This unique and innovative testing device turns a cell phone into a lab-accurate testing device. By pairing a Purpl PRO with an iOS or Android phone, users can test anywhere with FDA-approved technology and lab-accuracy.
The company conducted a study to demonstrate the accuracy of the Purpl PRO for cured flower THC and CBD concentrations across the range of potencies typical of the current cannabis marketplace.
The unit showed an accuracy rate that compares favorably to tests performed by licensed cannabis testing laboratories, but with the significant advantages of instantaneous results, reduced cost, reduced complexity, and the capability to perform tests in the field or any commercial environment.
As the legal cannabis and hemp markets mature, it will become imperative that everyone in the eco-system, from growers to law enforcement to consumers, can trust that the product is as being represented.
Bringing testing into the field with pharmaceutical precision may be a key to establishing trust in the system and providing verification wherever needed.