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Is it legal hemp or illegal weed? Police often can't tell

It's an interesting time in America. The majority of states (although not Iowa) have legalized marijuana for medical use. Most states, including Iowa, have legalized low-THC CBD, a cannabis derivative, for medical purposes. And, last year, the federal government legalized hemp, a relative of marijuana that contains almost no THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. However, states that have anti-hemp laws have generally not lifted them.

As a result, we live in a patchwork of laws that vary from location to location. In some places, marijuana is legal for all adult purposes under state law -- yet it's still illegal under federal law. In others, low-THC CBD products are considered completely legal -- but it's unclear whether CBD is federally illegal. Then, there are places where hemp is illegal under state law but legal under federal law.

This is putting people who travel between states at some legal risk. Recently, the Associated Press reported that some truckers hauling hemp from growers to processors have been arrested for marijuana trafficking.

After all, the two plants are related and look -- even smell -- a lot alike. Drug-sniffing dogs alert on hemp just as often as they do on marijuana. The only real way to tell hemp from marijuana is to test for the level of THC in the plant. Unfortunately, the field tests that officers use to detect THC in unknown substances is not sophisticated enough to tell the difference.

Truckers hauling state-certified hemp still arrested for drug trafficking

According to the Associated Press, at least three truckers and two security guards who were hauling state-certified hemp have been charged with felony drug trafficking because the police could not distinguish the two crops.

Drivers frequently haul hemp from producers in hemp-friendly Kentucky and Oregon to CBD processors in Colorado. In order to get there, the drivers go through Idaho and Oklahoma, where hemp is illegal. The truckers and guards were arrested for marijuana trafficking in Oklahoma -- and over $2 million worth of legal hemp remains in an Oklahoma warehouse while the cases play out. Drivers have been arrested in other locations, too.

"What local law enforcement is doing," said an attorney involved in one of the Oklahoma cases, "is they're stifling an industry that Congress intended to promote to help American farmers and help the American economy -- not to make people nervous that they're going to get tossed in jail over a (THC) discrepancy,"

"You're trying to make hemp legal so farmers can grow it," said an Idaho prosecutor of hemp legalization, "but you haven't put into place anything that's going to keep marijuana dealers from taking advantage of a huge loophole."

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