SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There has been a growing confusion nationwide centering around the mix-up between illegal marijuana and legal hemp. Santa Barbara County is now taking action on against the confusion with a purchase of a small device to tell the difference.
What looks like Cannabis, may also look like Hemp. Both plants have a similar look and smell making it hard for everyone to tell the difference.
“It is important for you guys to come into a farm or a grow and if they are saying that they are growing hemp, that it actually be hemp because, especially in the vegetated state, it doesn’t look any different,” said Hannah Brand.
Brand, whose family runs Autumn Brands cannabis farm in Carpinteria, knows this all too well. She says it is a nationwide issue.
Back in November, authorities from Kern County seized and destroyed about 100 million cannabis plants that were being marketed as legal hemp.
“It is definitely happening in our county,” said Rob Plastino of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.
Santa Barbara County used a portion of the cannabis tax to fund a "light lab" device. The device detects the THC levels to determine what is hemp and what is marijuana.
“Typically our customers are hemp growers or cannabis growers... Most recently we have been working with law enforcement, and they have been using the device to ensure the compliance on the hemp side and to ensure that folks on the cannabis side are doing what they are allowed to do," said Dylan Wilks, Chief Technology Officer at Orange Photonics, the company that makes the device.
“Typically hemp is considered hemp if it is less than 0.3 percent THC, and if it goes above that 0.3 percent threshold then it is considered marijuana or drug cannabis,” said Wilks.
Authorities are able to bring this small portable unit out into the field with them.
“Our cannabis compliance team needs something that they can carry with them out into the field and sometimes it can be a little of a hike to where they need to go,” said Plastino. “This lab allows to test the product on site and within a matter of minutes get a result back. Which is extremely important. It allows our team determine whether or not someone is in compliance and to take appropriate measures and it also allows the farming company to be able to continue to operate if they are within compliance.”
And if found guilty, growers will face a stiff penalty.
“If a grower is actually growing cannabis and not hemp and they are only license to grow hemp then their agricultural farm will be shut down,” said Plastino.