DEA Needs Device To Distinguish Between Marijuana, Hemp

By Kelly Burch 03/11/19
Though it looks like marijuana, hemp is grown for industrial purposes and is not psychoactive.
Image: 
scientist holding a hemp plant.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently sent out a public notice asking for leads on a device that can differentiate between marijuana and hemp—since hemp was made legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, while marijuana remains banned at the federal level. 

Hemp and marijuana are different strains of the cannabis sativa plant species. Despite this similarity, the plants have very different effects. Marijuana has a much higher THC content—the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis—while hemp has a lower THC content and higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD). Hemp is used to manufacture a range of products, from food to fabrics to biodegradable plastics. 

The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow and manufacture hemp, but because it is very similar in appearance to marijuana, this has made enforcing drug laws difficult for DEA agents. Hence, the agency is looking for a device that can test plants in the field to determine whether they are marijuana or hemp. 

“It must be portable and rugged enough to be used in non-laboratory environments or ambient conditions. All products shall be the most current and up-to-date model/revision(s) available at the time of delivery. Anticipated maximum quantities to be purchased will be based on evaluation results and agency need,” the agency wrote, according to Marijuana Moment

“Any Cannabis sativa L. plant material with a THC concentration above 0.3% is considered marijuana (AKA marihuana) and is still federally controlled,” the agency wrote. 

Anyone who is interested in providing such a device can submit an application for consideration before March 15. 

The DEA has been put in a tough position as cannabis laws around the country continue to evolve, while the agency's job is to enforce federal marijuana prohibition.

In addition to trying to differentiate between marijuana and hemp, the agency has also been working, albeit slowly, to expand marijuana research. 

Marijuana Moment reported that the DEA plans to increase the amount of marijuana that can be grown for research from 1,000 pounds to more than 5,000 pounds this year, but it has been slow to approve applications from growers. 

“The DEA increased the production quota for marihuana based solely on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects,” the agency said in December.

“The DEA continues to review applications for registration and registers the number of bulk manufacturers of a controlled substance that is necessary to produce an adequate and uninterrupted supply."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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