Thanks to the passage of the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Farm Bills, CBD oil and industrial hemp are legal to manufacture and sell. Despite its legality, there’s a big problem with industrial hemp and its byproducts. It smells and looks almost indistinguishable from its cousin – federally illegal marijuana.
Both hemp oil and organic CBD oil are showing up in every state, but industrial hemp and illegal marijuana look so similar that law enforcement is often confused – and so are their field tests.
A recent example comes from New York City. New York City police bragged on Facebook that they had made a large-scale marijuana drug bust. The officers posed with over 100 pounds of plants the officers were labeling as marijuana.
Those 100 pounds of plants are industrial hemp claims the Vermont Farm that grew the plants and the New York-based health shop they were ordered to. Both the farm and shop claim they have the paperwork to prove the plants are legal hemp.
When the shop owner’s brother went to the police station to explain the situation, he was arrested. The police claimed the field test had returned a positive result for marijuana. The shop’s owner Oren Levy was recovering from recent surgery and couldn’t go himself. While he was recovering, he received an ominous text message from his brother – “I think I’m getting arrested.”
Levy isn’t surprised that the field tests came back positive. Per the U.S. Farm Bills, THC of 0.3% or less is allowable in hemp and CBD products. However, the field tests used by officers aren’t sophisticated enough to measure the different levels of THC. K9 drug-sniffers also can’t tell the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana. The New York City bust isn’t the only case of mistaken cannabis identity.
In July, a man was arrested in South Dakota on the way to transport 300 pounds of hemp to a Minnesota-based CBD company. The hemp plants “looked and smelled like marijuana,” according to the arresting officer.
In January, Idaho law enforcement made what they believed was a 7000-pound marijuana bust. The plants were seized despite the driver showing officers paperwork that the plants were hemp.
It took until May for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a statement stating not to block the transport of any industrial hemp containing less than 0.3% THC.
The New York’ bust’ stemmed from a tip from a FedEx worker who loaded the plants at the Vermont Farm. “We got information about a large package of drugs. We got it in here. We field-tested it as marijuana, called the individual in. He was placed under arrest,” said NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.
The Vermont Farm claims the plants were tested by a local police department before being shipped, and the THC came in under half the legal limit. Until the shop can work out the situation with the NYPD, Ronen Levin remains in jail. “They treated him like a drug dealer,” Oren Levy said. “He’s never been to jail in his whole life. He still hasn’t slept. He’s paranoid.”