Gray areas in drug testing still a concern for Hemp users

Special Reports

With the rise of CBD comes concerns about current drug testing. 

“Looks and smells like marijuana, but it’s not,” said Joe Kirkpatrick, President of the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association. 

Those similarities have been creating confusion for Tennessee law enforcement. 

“Before we went off the smell, we went off the look. We knew what marijuana smelled like and what it looked like. We testified in court to that,” said St. Joseph Police Chief Adam Brewer. “But now that we have the hemp flower out here that looks like marijuana and smells like marijuana, how do we prosecute that?” 

The main difference between the two is the chemical composition of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that makes you high. 

At or below 0.3-percent THC is considered legal hemp, anything over is considered federally illegal like marijuana. 

When that comes into question, most law enforcement agencies send samples to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Crime Lab for testing. 

The methods have presented an issue. 

Until recently, the TBI told News 2 it couldn’t test for THC levels, meaning it couldn’t chemically differentiate hemp from marijuana. 

That’s where the agency said it’s made some major changes. 

The TBI said it’s in the final stages of implementing an extraction procedure to determine exact THC levels of plant material. 

Other agencies and employers send samples in question to third party testing, presenting a similar issue. 

News 2 has been keeping up with a Sumner County Public Employee who doesn’t want to be identified, whose job is still in limbo after failing a drug test. 

“I took a drug test for a work-related injury and on January 1st, they gave me the results that I failed,” the employee told News 2. 

The employee said the marijuana-positive test was flawed, detecting THC in his system, mistaking it for the CBD oil he takes daily for back pain. 

“Why is something legal something I could potentially lose my job for?” he said. 

“Right now, basically pass fail,” said Kirkpatrick of current drug tests. 

Kirkpatrick is advocating for change in the 2020 legislative session. 

He said most drug testing picks up THC levels of 50 nanograms per milliliter, way below the legal limit. 

“We are going to be going back in January to get a drug testing protocols for the state changed to a limit that would accommodate people that are using compliant products,” said Kirkpatrick. 
 
Kirkpatrick said what will be a game changer is if the state funds THC testing kits to help officers in the field. 
 
The TBI told News 2, it received a new field test from the Drug Enforcement Agency and will be working with the DEA to evaluate its potential. 
 
“We want some certainty out there and them to wrongly arrest people,” said Kirkpatrick. “We don’t want people to have their civil rights violated.” 

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