Slight Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana Causing Problems

Bad Busts, Failed Drug Tests and Potential Range Wars
By RICK MELLERUP | Dec 18, 2019
Photo by: Wikipedia

Surf City, NJ — Ignorance, famously, is no excuse when it comes to the law, and when it comes to hemp and the manufacturing, sale, possession and use of CBD products derived from hemp, there is more than enough ignorance to go around. That ignorance is shared by police officers and the public alike.

Take, for example, what has now become a rather notorious New York City Police Department arrest and confiscation in early November. Two Brooklyn cops were convinced they had made a major drug bust. Indeed, they and their superiors were so proud of the seizure of 106 pounds of marijuana that they tweeted a picture of the huge bags of the green leafy substance and said, “Officers Greenidge and Ganshaw from the @NYPD75Pct used precision policing and relentless follow-up, along with a great working relationship with @FedEx and other local law enforcement officials, to confiscate 106 pounds of marijuana that was destined for our city streets.”

The only problem was that the huge haul of pot was apparently a huge haul of hemp, a substance declared legal by both the federal government and a big majority of states, including Vermont, where the hemp was grown by a licensed farmer, and New York.

Fox Hollow Farms in Vermont grew the hemp and shipped it to Green Angel CBD in Brooklyn, a company that would process the hemp into CBD oils. The shipment had been cleared in advance by the Williston, Vt., police, with each box containing third-party laboratory documentation that the product was hemp, not marijuana. But a FedEx employee tipped off the NYPD, believing it was pot, and Officers Greenidge and Ganshaw not only seized the shipment, but then called Green Angel owner Oren Levy to say his shipment was ready for pickup. Levy had recently undergone surgery, so he sent his brother Ronan to make the pickup. Ronan was arrested and charged with multiple counts of felony criminal possession of marijuana.

The brothers, along with the Vermont farm owner, protested. And, in fact, the NYPD must have known the officers had made a mistake because Ronan was released without bail, something that a typical high-end pot smuggler could never expect.

But the Levy brothers’ legal odyssey still hasn’t ended. It had been reported prosecutors had intended to drop all charges when Ronan appeared in court on Dec. 2. But they didn’t, and Ronan’s next court hearing isn’t scheduled until May 29. In the meantime, Oren Levy is out the $17,000 he paid for the shipment, can’t afford another shipment, and says his business may go under.

Officers Greenidge and Ganshaw defended their bust, saying the substance looked like pot, smelled like pot, and failed a field drug test. And that is the problem that goes far beyond the NYC case – it is extremely difficult to determine whether a substance is marijuana or hemp.

Amount of THC

Is Main Difference

Hemp and marijuana are closely related, both members of the cannabis sativa family. So they look – and smell – very much alike, although hemp grows tall, as high as 20 feet, and thin on a single stalk and has fewer branches and leaflets than marijuana, which more closely resembles a bush and has more leaves, and flowers called buds.

The biggest difference between the two plants, though, is chemical. Cannabis has at least 113 cannabinoids, the two important of which today are tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

Marijuana plants can have up to 30 percent THC content. Hemp plants, by law, have to have a THC content of 0.3 percent or less. THC is the element of marijuana that gets you high. You could smoke hemp for days and all you would get for your effort is a sore throat.

Hemp does have many uses, especially in industrial textiles such as rope and canvas. Indeed, in America’s Colonial and early republic stages it was particularly valued for its use in sails. But by 1937, all but two U.S. states had declared marijuana illegal, and hemp was included in those laws.

That all changed last December when President Trump signed the 2018 farm bill into law, legalizing hemp once again. Interestingly, the biggest supporter of re-legalizing hemp in Congress was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hoped hemp could replace tobacco as a major crop in his home state of Kentucky.

But although hemp is now legal at the federal level, pot is not, even though 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use, and 33 states and D.C. have approved medical marijuana. And that’s where marijuana and hemp cross paths, because both plants contain cannabidiol, or CBD.

CBD appears to be the phytocannabinoid of cannabis plants that is medically useful, apparently helping people with numerous issues, especially anxiety and pain. However, people have to go through a rigorous process in many states to get a medical marijuana card, whereas CBD products can be purchased over the counter, even in gas stations and convenience stores. CBD products quickly became wildly popular, even if they can’t give you the buzz associated with pot.

Drug Test Troubles;

Even Dogs Confused

Lab tests can prove whether or not a plant is marijuana or hemp, or a CBD product is made from pot or its weaker-in-THC cousin. Remember, though, that hemp can contain up to 0.3 percent THC. That is enough to make you flunk a drug test. A failed drug test can get you fired or keep you from being hired – maybe not as bad as getting arrested, but still a life-changer.

The U.S. military, for one, doesn’t want to hear CBD excuses from soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coasties who fail a drug test. The Department of Defense has told military members that CBD use is “completely forbidden.”

In August, former Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer declared in a guidance statement that “The use of products containing or derived from hemp, may interfere with the Navy and Marine Corps Drug Testing Program and result in the reporting of unlawful THC levels in Sailors and Marines.” Plus, said Spencer, sailors and Marines “cannot rely on the packaging and labeling of hemp products in determining whether the product contains THC concentrations that could cause a positive urinalysis result.”

The Air Force agreed with Spencer, warning airmen away from CBD products, citing a study by a University of Pennsylvania professor that showed that out of 84 such products sold online, only 31 percent accurately reflected the product’s CBD content, and 21 percent contained THC even though their product labels advertised zero THC.

The U.S. Army’s Substance Abuse Program, AR600-85, section 4-2p, states “this regulation prohibits Soldiers from using Hemp or products containing Hemp oil.”

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense, but it is taking an even harder stand on CBD and drugs than its sister services. Coast Guard COMDTINST M1000.10, Chapter 5, section D.1 says, “The Coast Guard does not tolerate the intentional use of illegal drugs, illicit chemical analogues, or prescription drug misuse. This includes the ingestion of hemp oil or products made with hemp seed oil; however does not include food items regulated and approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) that contain hemp ingredients.”

On July 30, the Coast Guard issued an order that banned active service members from even entering pot dispensaries or establishments that grow, process, manufacture, distribute or otherwise deal with cannabis in any way. In fact, Coasties can’t even invest in cannabis companies.

“I expect Coast Guard personnel to maintain a lifestyle that neither condones the use of illegal substances nor exposes them to accidental intake of illegal drugs,” wrote Commandant Adm. Karl Schulz in the order.

Police Dogs Fooled;

Range War Possible

The legalization of hemp is having all sorts of unintended consequences. The Ohio Highway Patrol and the Columbus Division of Police both suspended marijuana-detection training for new police dogs this past summer. With hemp and pot both smelling the same even to a dog’s sensitive nose, police worried about having cases thrown out of court.

If a police dog was to hit on hemp hidden in a vehicle leading to a search and other drugs were found, such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, a defense lawyer could argue to have the charges dropped because of questionable probable cause leading to the search.

Meanwhile, hemp farmers and marijuana growers are starting to become the 21st century’s version of feuding sheepherders and cattlemen. If hemp fields and pot fields, legal or illegal, are too close to each other – within 10 miles at the least – there is a danger of cross-pollination. If marijuana pollen were to float through the air to a hemp farm, the hemp’s THC content would be increased come the next growing season, turning it, officially, into pot and therefore making it illegal in the hemp market. (Remember, hemp has to have a THC content of 0.3 percent or less.) But pot growers are even more worried if there is a hemp farmer in their neighborhood. That’s because the finest marijuana is called sinsemilla, Spanish for “without seeds.” It comes from female marijuana plants that have not been pollinated, so they have no seeds and a higher resin content. If hemp pollen blows into the neighborhood, seeds will develop, and the value of the crop will be greatly diminished.

Police officers, police dogs, CBD users and even the plants themselves can all be fooled or foiled by the difficulty of distinguishing between hemp and marijuana. And in this case, ignorance is not bliss.

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