Difference between hemp and marijuana, and does it legally matter?

In June 2019, the passage of House Bill 1325 legalized the sale and production of hemp crops and products in Texas. Like marijuana, hemp is a cannabis plant, and the cannabidiol, or CBD, found in hemp, can soothe pain and help users handle anxiety and depression. The difference between the hemp and marijuana is that marijuana generally has a higher level of the psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), than hemp. A plant is classified as hemp if it has less than 0.3% THC and marijuana’s THC levels are typically much higher. Hemp does not have the amount of THC necessary to get someone high.

Even though hemp is now legal in Texas, marijuana still is not. In Texas, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor drug charge and can result in 180 days of jail time and up to $2,000 in fines. Possession of larger amounts or sale of marijuana can be classified as a felony and result in a mandatory minimum jail sentence of five years.

While it may seem simple, being able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana on the spot may be difficult for Texas law enforcement officials. If an officer stops a vehicle containing hemp products, it could take weeks to conduct the necessary lab testing to determine whether there is THC in the product. Even if the testing reveals there is THC in the product, it is unclear how much. Farmers and retailers would also benefit from being able to instantaneously determine THC levels of a plant before beginning the growing or product creation process.

At Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, researchers are working on coming up with a portable scanner to determine plants’ THC levels. The study has shown that the scanner can not only tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, but also tell the difference between different varieties of marijuana.

This scanner is promising for the future, but in the meantime, police officers are still arresting Texas residents for possession of marijuana. Circumstantial evidence, such as smell and evidence of smoking, may be enough to prosecute in some cases, but some prosecutors may also lab reports to confirm that the product is marijuana before going forward on criminal charges.  If you are facing marijuana possession charges, it can be beneficial to contact an attorney in your area as soon as possible.

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