Hemp v. Marijuana: Similarities Make It Tough on Law Enforcement
SAINT JOSEPH, Tenn. (WKRN) - In 2017, the legislature modified the state's hemp laws, making it legal to sell hemp products containing less than .3-percent THC.
That same law also states that hemp is not marijuana and will not be treated like a controlled substance.
While that's good for consumers of hemp products, it's creating confusion for law officers.
"Before we went off the smell, we went off the look," said Saint Joseph Police Chief Adam Brewer. “We knew what marijuana smelled like and what it looked like. We testified in court to that. But now that we have the hemp flower out here that looks like marijuana and smells like marijuana, how do we prosecute that?"
Not long ago, a Saint Joseph police officer stopped a man who had a container in his possession.
It was labeled “Green Lyfe”, it said it was CBD hemp flower, legal in all 50 states, and it has less than .3-percent THC.
It's definitely legal here in Tennessee.
“If I stop someone on the road and they say it is hemp, how do I prove it is not hemp and it is actually marijuana?"
According to Brewer, his officer looked at the container and it smelled like marijuana and it looked like marijuana. He says there's no quick and easy way to know.
“It sets up civil liability issues, I don't want to arrest someone if they are doing something legal, but I am here to enforce the laws of Tennessee so technically if you have marijuana in your pocket, I'm supposed to prosecute it. But how do I tell that? If you have hemp and you are legal, I don't want to charge you with marijuana and falsely arrest you."
At the local convenience store where hemp flower products are sold legally, News 2 found a case containing several hemp products including one called, ”7 days Hemp”.
The packaging claims that smoking it can relax you.
While that may be true, it's making some longtime law officers anxious because legal and illegal look so similar.
“I talked to an assistant of the District Attorney and they agree it is something we have to research. They are looking into it as well and they agree it is a complex issue."
According to chief Brewer, the driver was cited after admitting he put illegal pot in the CBD flower container.
“If he had said it was hemp flower, we'd have just had to go with it being hemp flower. Out on the side of the road, there's no way to know otherwise.”
A District Attorney we spoke with says only the Department of Agriculture has the equipment to test the product and agrees with the chief that this has the potential to be a very big problem for law enforcement.