Last year, the federal government legalized the possession and distribution of hemp. The plant, a relative of marijuana, contains virtually no THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. Yet it looks similar and smells the same — and drug dogs will alert on both.
That has become a real problem for truckers who transport hemp. The only way to prove that they’re carrying a truckload of a completely legal plant is to measure the amount of THC. Unfortunately, police don’t have the technology to do that by the roadside.
Hemp is a useful plant. It can be used to make clothing, rope, and other products. It’s also a source of CBD, a non-psychoactive byproduct of both cannabis and hemp that many people use as a health aide.
The now-completely legal hemp industry relies on commercial trucking to get its product from farm to processor to market. Many farms are located in Kentucky and Oregon, according to the Associated Press. Processing often takes place in Colorado. That sends truckers through Idaho and Oklahoma, where arrests have taken place.
Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a request for information to companies that may be able to create field tests to differentiate hemp from marijuana.
“Nobody wants to see someone in jail for a month for the wrong thing,” said a DEA spokesperson. “To enable us to do our job, we have to have something that can help us distinguish.”
A board member of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association called the abrupt legalization of hemp “the greatest example of the cart being put before the horse that I’ve ever thought of.” Hemp remains illegal in Idaho, although the state is working to get a legalization bill passed.
“You’re trying to make hemp legal so farmers can grow it, but you haven’t put into place anything that’s going to keep marijuana dealers from taking advantage of a huge loophole,” he added.
It’s unclear how many truckers have been arrested. The AP easily found half a dozen cases, some serious. For example, two men were arrested despite having a hemp farming license, a copy of the license of the processing lab and a chemical analysis of all 60 sacks of hemp they were transporting. The charges were eventually dropped, but the police have kept their truck and $1-million cargo and are still holding it.
Yet state certifications or lab certificates should be enough to provide initial evidence that the load is legal, and violators could be arrested later if lab tests on samples came back positive for marijuana.
Can law enforcement be satisfied without a roadside test to exonerate hemp transporters? Or is hemp still functionally illegal in the United States?