Hemp or Marijuana? Houston lab can finally tell the difference

HOUSTON – The Houston Forensic Science Center has developed a chemical test that can differentiate between hemp and marijuana, making it possible for prosecutors to more easily prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases in Texas.

When a Texas law defining hemp and marijuana went into effect in June 2019, labs in Texas were not prepared to provide the evidence prosecutors needed to enforce the law.

“Crime laboratories statewide did not have the capability to measure the amount of THC in any cannabis products, making it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for prosecutors to prove whether a seized plant material was marijuana or hemp,” an HFSC statement explained.

The law defined hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, and marijuana with above 0.3 percent THC.

Until now, “law enforcement agencies [have] had to decide when to spend hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars to send evidence to a private laboratory,” the statement continued. “Often, these resources were dedicated to only the largest felony case.”

KPRC 2 Investigates broke the story last year that many local law enforcement agencies in Harris, Montgomery, Galveston, Brazoria, Fort Bend and Waller Counties and beyond would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases.

As a result of the new testing method developed at HFSC, “Houston prosecutors will now be able to use public laboratory test results to prove in court whether a seized plant material is marijuana,” the statement said.

“Hemp can smell and look like marijuana, and vice versa,” said Peter Stout, President and CEO of HFSC. “No one can tell you which has more THC or not without the chemical testing.”

Stout said the new, complicated chemical testing method is limited to the cannabis plant itself, and warns that there is currently no way to prove what is in other cannabis products.

“If you buy a CBD product or other hemp or cannabis product, you have no way of knowing what’s in that, you just don’t,” Stout said. “There’s no regulation around that stuff. There is no way for a consumer to know what is actually in that bottle or gummy they just stuck in their mouth.”