Law enforcement officials across the country are struggling to adapt to the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill that differentiated hemp, now an agricultural commodity, from marijuana, which remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The Farm Bill legalized the regulated production of hemp as well as the interstate transport of hemp. As a result of police confusion, there have already been two highly publicized cases of confusion in early 2019. In both cases, interstate truckers were wrongfully arrested on marijuana trafficking charges when their cargo was actually legal hemp.
Differentiating Industrial Hemp from Illegal Marijuana
The main problem is that hemp and marijuana are just different strains of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, varying primarily in their THC content. Neither police officers nor drug-sniffing dogs nor quick “does it contain any THC?” roadside tests can tell the difference. Legal hemp and illegal marijuana look the same and smell the same. Chemical testing of an 18,000-pound load of hemp may take weeks, in part due to backlogs at testing labs, by which point a semitrailer of plant material worth over $500,000 may be unsaleable.
Hemp, sometimes referred to as industrial hemp, is defined as the cannabis plant and any part of it which contains less than 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis. THC is the psychoactive compound that makes a person “high.” By comparison, recreational marijuana strains typically contain at least 5% THC, and some varieties contain as much as 30% THC.
Wrongful Drug Arrests and Law Enforcement Concerns
Several arrests of truck drivers hauling hemp have been highly publicized in the first quarter of 2019. For example, near Boise, Idaho, state police seized 6,700 pounds of hemp that they believed was marijuana and held the truck driver in jail for four days before releasing him on a $100,000 bond. The case is now being reviewed by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the trucking company and the buyer to whom the hemp was being delivered have filed lawsuits demanding the return of the product.
In Pawhuska, Oklahoma, a city police officer stopped a semi for running a stoplight and noticed a strong smell of marijuana. The two truck drivers and two accompanying security guards were all arrested and jailed. Subsequent testing showed that two of 11 samples tested at 0.4% to 0.5% THC, just over the legal hemp level of 0.3% but far below the level that would be considered “good” recreational marijuana.
Law enforcement officials respond with fears that drug traffickers will hide high-THC marijuana in loads of industrial hemp. The American Trucking Association has simply recommended that motor carriers “continue to exercise caution.”
Get an Aggressive Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer on Your Side
If you have been arrested on the highways of Will County for a traffic violation that led to charges of drug possession, you need a skilled Joliet criminal defense lawyer to fight for your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba at 815-740-4025; we respond to calls day or night.