Hemp cargo forfeited; scanner to ID hemp studied

February 17, 2020

Chuck Robinson

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Two developments from the hemp industry are of interest to people watching the trucking industry.

One, researchers at Texas A&M University are developing a scanner that could quickly test whether a cargo is hemp or marijuana, both of which come from the same species of plant. If the scanner had been developed already, it could have helped the plight of incarcerated truckers in Texas awaiting test results telling law enforcement officials if their cargo was indeed hemp and therefore legal.

Second, in Idaho a judge has ruled that a company must forfeit a 6,701-pound cargo of hemp that was being transported across Idaho in January 2019 even though Congress passed legislation in December 2018 to decriminalize hemp.

Forfeited hemp cargo

To recap the situation with the forfeited hemp cargo, Idaho State Police seized a semitrailer load of hemp owned by Big Sky Scientific, an Aurora, Colo.-based CBD company on Jan. 24, 2019, at the East Boise, Idaho, port of entry. It was being hauled to processing facility in Oregon. The driver was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and eventually agreed to a plea deal.

The truck hauling the hemp was returned to its owner. The cargo, however, was not.

In a summary judgment issued Jan. 24, the judge ruled that, while Congress passed legislation in the 2018 farm bill differentiating hemp from illegal marijuana by the amount of psychoactive THC in it, there were two important factors:

  • The legislation ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create rules governing hemp production and transportation, but it had not done so at the time the Big Sky Scientific cargo was seized. The cargo also did not fit the narrow guidelines of a hemp research pilot program in place at the time. Therefore, the cargo could not be considered legal, and transporting it was not protected.
  • There still is not a means for police and state authorities to tell hemp from marijuana. “It is now simply impractical for law enforcement agencies to tell ‘hemp’ from ‘marijuana’ as those terms are defined in the federal statutes,” the judge wrote, according to a report from KTVB-TV.

Big Sky Scientific at this point has lost the case, although it could still be appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. The case and the attention it has drawn to the issue were factors in Gov. Brad Little issuing an executive order carefully laying out rules for transporting hemp across Idaho.

Texas A&M hemp scanner research

In January, Texas A&M researchers published in the scientific journal RSC Advances a study on developing a handheld scanner that can quickly determine the level of THC in cannabis plants.

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Texas lawmakers passed legislation in November 2019 to allow hemp production and transportation in the state.

In December, a driver of a U-Haul box van with a 3,000-pound cargo of cannabis was arrested. A month or so later, the case was dismissed and the driver released from jail in Amarillo, Texas.

If there had been a hemp scanner at the time that could easily fit in a police cruiser and quickly distinguish hemp from marijuana, that driver would not have been incarcerated for a month. Current methods require samples to be sent to a lab where the testing process is lengthy and labor-intensive.

“The case you are talking about highlights the importance of our research. It was not the catalyst itself, but when we heard about it we realized how important our discovery will be for police and cargo carriers,” researcher Dmitry Kurouski told Land Line.

The scanner uses Raman spectroscopy, discovered in 1928 by Indian scientist C. V. Raman, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for the discovery. The process is used to diagnose cancer, osteoporosis and other health issues. It also is used in other situations to study biological material.

The method is 100% accurate, the researchers claim. They tested dozens of samples from a Denver hemp production facility. It also measures the illegal THC amount and the amount of a related compound that turns into the illegal compound when heated. The plants do not have to be destroyed in the process.

Researchers are seeking means to mass produce the hemp scanner, which they said could feasibly begin in two or three years.

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Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson formerly was senior copy editor for a weekly trade publication serving the fresh produce industry. He has served trade publications, horticultural journals and community newspapers for 25 years.