Local law enforcement question how Senate Bill 57, which legalizes the cultivation of hemp, is impacting marijuana cases.
The use of cannabidiol, or CBD, has exploded with oils, lotions and other hemp-based products popping up in stores across Stark County.
Sections of CBD products can be found at many local businesses, and consumers are using the products to help with relaxation, pain relief and insomnia.
This summer, Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 57, making Ohio the latest state to legalize the cultivation of a variety of cannabis known as “hemp.” The non-intoxicating cannabis is harvested for industrial use, including to make CBD products.
Forty-one states have legalized hemp since Congress passed the Agriculture Act of 2014. Also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, it legalized a cannabis with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 0.3%, which takes the “high” out of the plant.
Hemp and marijuana look and smell alike, prompting a question for local law enforcement officers: How do you spot the difference?
With the passage of the bill, law enforcement agencies are faced with two dilemmas: K-9s cannot tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, and marijuana testing in many crime labs cannot determine the amount of THC in a sample.
According to the Ohio Attorney General, the scent of marijuana is enough “probable cause” to search a vehicle or home.
Though hemp has a low level of THC, Law enforcement officials say trained police dogs can still detect the scent.
Stark County Sheriff George Maier said the newly passed bill presents some challenges for his deputies. Ohio Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association and other state officials also have concerns.
“We’re still going to do our jobs,” Maier said. “That’s the most important thing for people to know. We’re still going to work within the confines of the law to eradicate illegal drugs from our communities.”
Chief Doug Swartz, of the Canal Fulton Police Department said he is being proactive by taking extra steps before searching a vehicle based on marijuana odor alone.
Swartz is encouraging his officers to ask additional questions and look for other indicators of illegal activity, including drug paraphernalia or contraband in plain sight.
“I see it coming where odor alone is not going to be enough,” Swartz said. “It’s not going to be enough probable cause to take it to the next level.”
K-9 Rogue, who joined the department in June, will not be trained to smell THC, he said.
A K-9 cannot tell its handler what scent it is detecting, Swartz explained. K-9s who are trained in THC tracking may not give their handlers probable cause to search a vehicle because it could be detecting hemp, which is no longer a controlled substance, he said.
Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Neil Laughlin, of the Cleveland District Criminal Patrol Unit, said the class of K-9s being trained will not be imprinted on detecting the odor of marijuana.
Police dogs that have been trained to detect marijuana are still working, he added.
“We’re left with that quagmire of what’s in the car,” Swartz said. “We want to be 100% effective with our K-9. Not training him in THC would be the way to do it.”
What is hemp?
According to Medical News Today, hemp oil refers to a full-spectrum oil from the Cannabis sativa plant or hemp seed oil, which is oil that comes from just the seeds of the plant. CBD oil uses the stalks, leaves, and flowers of the hemp plant.
Hemp oils can act as a natural pain relief, promote healthy skin and can benefit heart and brain health, according to the article.
Janette Smith, co-owner of EpaTHeKeri in Massillon, has used CBD oils for more than a year to treat arthritis in both of her knees. After taking the supplements, she said, she can now enjoy activities like yoga and weight training.
CBD BioCare is sold at EpaTHeKeri and can cost nearly $65 for a 1-ounce bottle, Smith said. The products can be purchased in a sublingual form, pain balms, gummies or moisturizers.
“It’s not a cure,” she explained. “It’s a supplement. You take it like a vitamin. Just like Vitamin C helps fight colds … this helps with everything else.”
The purpose of the product, Smith said, is to help the body restore its natural balance or homeostasis. Since she began selling it in her store, the hemp-based products have become “incredibly popular,” she said.
“Not a lot is known about it yet because it’s just been decriminalized and legalized,” Smith said. “… Once people try it and they know how to do it, they come back over and over again.”
Michele Foster, of the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab, said the crime lab does qualitative tests rather than quantitative tests when given a sample of potential marijuana. While they can determine if there is THC present, she said, they cannot determine how much.
The crime labs across the state are working with current instrumentation to see if a new procedure can be put in place before purchasing new instruments, Foster said.
If new equipment or machines need to be purchased, switching to quantitative tests will be expensive, she said. Paying for additional manpower hours due to more time consuming testing would also factor into the expense, Foster said.
Justin Richard, chief prosecutor with the Massillon Law Department, said not having quantitative testing in place makes it difficult to prove that a sample is marijuana without a reasonable doubt.
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) is in “the process of validating instruments, developing methodologies and creating procedures for the quantitative testing of THC content.”
New instruments were placed in the Richfield and London labs in the beginning of August, with a third instrument to be placed at the Bowling Green laboratory in the future.
The Ohio Highway Patrol has a lab in Columbus to process cases, Laughlin said.
The agency is in the process of gathering equipment and accrediting its labs to be able to do quantitative testing, he said.
Samples are being outsourced to accredited labs, some of which are out-of-state, to determine the percentage of THC in a sample, Laughlin said. As of the beginning of October, none of the samples came back as hemp, he said.
Cases are being prioritized based on the amount, he said. A felony case, which means more than 200 grams of suspected marijuana was seized, has a higher priority than a minor misdemeanor, Laughlin explained.
“We are still charging people that are in possession of marijuana,” Laughlin said. “Marijuana is still a crime in Ohio. It has created a slight road block, but we’re still applying the appropriate laws when it comes up.”
Reach Samantha at 330-775-1133 or Samantha.Ickes@IndeOnline.com
On Twitter: @SickesINDE