NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – News 2 continues to track Tennessee’s hemp surge, including the challenges to regulate it.
On Tuesday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation gave a first look at its new hemp testing process.
They feel, smell, even chemically react almost identically.
“Sample of hemp, sample of marijuana out. You can tell by looking at it, you can’t tell the difference between the two,” said Glen Everett, TBI Special Agent for the Forensic Sciences Division.
But after years of struggling to differentiate the two legally different plants, the TBI now has a new tool.
“This has been one of the greatest challenges in forensic science over the past couple of years is dealing with how do you tell the difference between marijuana and hemp?” said Mike Lyttle, TBI Assistant Director of Forensic Services.
“We have this color test we’ve developed and done testing and helps us determine what’s hemp and what’s marijuana,” said Everett.
Everett demonstrated how the test works.
“I’ll take some of the marijuana first,” said Everett.
A solution is then added to the flower.
“If it’s marijuana, it’ll turn an immediate deep blue color,” said Everett.
A few shakes and minutes later, Everett determines a sample is marijuana.
But hemp, Everett said doesn’t react as much.
“You can see it’s not going to an immediate blue color – turns a slow pink over time,” said Everett.
If the color tests render unclear results, the testing is elevated to gas chromatograph machines that can test for exact THC thresholds.
When this happens, Lyttle said the material in question is then compared to a one-percent THC sample.
The verification could take days, if not weeks.
“If it’s greater than one-percent, then we are confident that it’s greater than 0.3, which is set forth in the law and we can call that marijuana,” said Lyttle.
If further confirmation is needed, the TBI can test for an exact amount from 0.1 to 1-percent THC.
The key number – the legal limit of less than 0.3-percent THC.
“What this is, is it’s really a trade off for us to provide testing that’s useful to the district attorney to prosecute cases, also at the same time to be aware of the huge number of plant material cases we’re going to get in,” said Lyttle.
The color test has been in use since the beginning of September.
It’s much more cost effective, averaging at about $15 a test, compared to the testing machines that start at $100,000.
The TBI told News 2 they have one dedicated person to validate testing at the Nashville crime lab.
But part of the struggle is having to staff and get equipment for this growing need, with no additional funding.