New federal grant created to develop method to distinguish hemp and marijuana

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The National Institute of Justice has $350,000 to create a way to tell the difference between the two plants

The Farm Bill was passed in 2018, legalizing hemp at the federal level and determined that hemp shall be defined as having a maximum of 3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content.

In all the time since then, they have still not come up with a sure-fire method of telling one from the other. Now the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice is awarding a $350,000 grant to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to support efforts to “provide forensic laboratories with the necessary analytical tools to confidently make these measurements through simple, robust and cost-effective analytical methods.”

Cannabis seized by law enforcement that contains THC in excess of 3% is still classified as illegal marijuana in the eyes of the law. But the current testing methods in use have proven to be inadequate over time. In fact, the grant notice for the DOJ stated that “most forensic laboratories are currently lacking reliable extraction protocols and analytical methods for this purpose.”

The grant notice from DOJ further states, “After method completion, this proposal includes a technology transfer focus from NIST to the federal, state and local forensic laboratories through standard operating procedures, training modules, webinars, and scientific publications.”

So now the NIST has hooked up with the Maryland State Police (MSP) and the Montgomery County Police Department crime labs to obtain 125 samples of marijuana, which will be used to conduct the analyses. The DEA announced a similar effort last year, explaining that it was seeking a device to “provide specificity to distinguish between hemp and marijuana” since the former crop is now legal.