Hemp is legal. Marijuana isn’t. State forensic scientists say soon they’ll have tests to tell the two apart

Hemp is legal. Marijuana isn’t. State forensic scientists say soon they’ll have tests to tell the two apart
Cannabis plant. (Source: Getty Images)

The state forensic science lab plans to distribute 15,000 field tests to police departments around Virginia that will help officers distinguish between hemp and marijuana plants, which can appear identical but carry very different legal implications.

“You can’t tell the difference … without some kind of quantitative testing,” said Linda Jackson, who directs the Department of Forensic Science.

The General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year allowing the production and sale of hemp for CBD, a wildly popular but largely untested component of the plant marketed as a remedy for everything from anxiety to seizures.

Since the law was enacted on an emergency basis in March, farmers have planted thousands of acres of the crop. Hemp products had already popped up in stores all over the state in preparations ranging from oils to “hemp flower,” buds of the plant that look and smell just like their contraband cousins.

But so far, law enforcement agencies have had no way to differentiate between a legal hemp product and a still-very-illegal marijuana one.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.