Senate Bill Seeks to End Confusion Over Liability for Hemp Shipments

October 4, 2019 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON – A provision in the Justice Department’s annual funding bill is likely to alter the criminal liability risks for sellers and handlers of cannabis products.

Ten states have authorized limited sales of the psychoactive drug for recreation, despite the fact marijuana possession remains a felony under federal law. They also have authorized sales of CBD, a pain and neurological remedy that is not psychoactive and not illegal.

Both marijuana and CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, are made from the cannabis plant. The plant is sometimes called hemp when it is used to make fabrics and rope.

However, the fine line between marijuana and hemp has left police confused about when they can make an arrest for illegal possession or sale of marijuana. The risk is that the person being arrested is legally handling hemp.

Senate leaders last week inserted a provision in the funding bill for the Justice Department that orders the Drug Enforcement Administration to develop a field test to distinguish hemp from illegal marijuana. The test would determine how much THC is in the material.

The provision “directs the DEA to continue to work to identify and/or develop such devices and technologies.”

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Levels below 0.3 percent indicate the material is harmless hemp. Higher levels indicate it is marijuana.

More than a half dozen truckers carrying hemp or CBD have been arrested in various states recently. Typically, they were carrying it to manufacturers or dispensaries that are opening quickly in states that allow sales of CBD.

A recent example was the arrest in January of four men in Pawhuska, Okla. They were hauling 18,000 pounds of hemp. Police charged them with drug-trafficking.

A DEA chemical test showed the hemp contained 0.4% THC, or just slightly over the legal limit. Two of the men spent several weeks in jail before the charges were dropped.

Confusion grew after Congress approved the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp. It also legalized cross-border shipments of hemp through all states.

Eliminating regulatory barriers in the Farm Bill has provided a big incentive to some farmers. They are growing it for the greater profits it produces compared with traditional food crops.

They received further encouragement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said in a recent statement, “I stand ready to work with Kentucky’s hemp producers to address whatever challenges arise as they explore the full potential of this remarkable crop.” 

McConnell is a key supporter of new tests to help police quickly distinguish hemp from marijuana.

“Ensuring law enforcement can differentiate between industrial hemp and its illicit cousin is critical, and I’ll continue working with the DEA and other federal agencies so hemp can be treated the same as any other legal commodity,” McConnell said.

States that have legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana are Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

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