Va’s state labs developing new tests for hemp, marijuana as current methods fall short

Regional

RICHMOND, Va.(WRIC) — State labs are running into a “challenge,” the Director of the Dept. of Forensic Science says, after a new law that passed this year legalized industrial hemp. At this time, tests done there can’t distinguish the difference between hemp and marijuana. 

The Department of Forensic Science (DFS) sent out a memo last week warning other agencies about this issue. It also brings up a problem seen in police field tests.

On a routine patrol, Capitol Police Officer David Sandoval sometimes comes across people using what appears to be pot. 

“We’ll go ahead and bring out a field test kit, so that we know what we’re handling or what we’re working with,” Officer Sandoval said.

These field tests are in each patrol cruiser and are a small bag with three little plastic veils in them with different compounds to test a substance. The liquid will turn purple if the item put into it has cannabis sativa plant in it. It reacts the same way, turning purple, if marijuana or a hemp product is tested. 

According to their annual report, the Virginia Division of Capitol Police dealt with six drug-related cases. 

More hemp products are on the streets after Virginia passed a law this year legalizing industrial hemp. Products like CBD oil made from it can only have trace amounts of THC, .03 percent or lower. THC is the compound found in cannabis that gets people high. 

Police field tests are a quick way to look at a substance, but larger seizures or cases with possible charges are set to the Dept. of Forensic Science for further testing. Currently, the tests done in the labs cannot distinguish the differences between these two products.

“The biggest challenge that we’re currently having in the laboratory is the hemp products and being able to differentiate those from marijuana,” Director of the Dept. of Forensic Science Linda Jackson said. “Some of those products are now hemp buds in packaging labeled as CBD products that are being sold. So, being able to differentiate that material from marijuana plant material requires us to do some kind of quantity of THC.”

Levels of THC cannot be quantified in plant residue or in edible products, like candies or gummies, according to the letter. It can be quantified in oils, such as vape pens. Jackson says the department is working on new ways to analyze THC levels.

“The easiest thing to do would be to expand it to plant materials. We’re going to do that first,” she explained. “Then we will start looking, very quickly after that, different edible products.”​​​​​​​

Since the law was passed March 21, the department has held off on testing products that the new methods would need to be used on. So, there is currently a backlog. The cases that are priorities are being tested first, Jackson says. 

DFS officials plan to have the new testing methods finalized in two months. 

As for the police field tests, DFS is also looking into how they’re conducted in other areas, like Europe. Law enforcement there have access to field tests that can change color to determine whether it is hemp or marijuana. 

SEE ALSO: Hemp or marijuana: Creating concern for local law enforcement, district attorney

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