Mitch McConnell Demands Portable THC Test For Hemp Vs ‘Marijuana’

Jessica McKeil October 17, 2019 1 comment

This sort of THC Test doesn’t exist, but why does Mitch McConnell think America even needs it?

Feature Image Credit: @Greg Nash via The Hill

Based on the latest statement from Mitch McConnell, his stance on hemp is clear, but his ideas about cannabis are mistaken. Over the last few years, Senate majority leader McConnell has been working hard to make hemp cultivation legal across the U.S. However, despite his views on hemp, he is opinions on cannabis are still quite dated.

In late September, McConnell tagged a few lines of legislation on to a spending bill before it went through the Senate. His addition included, “A measure to support the Drug Enforcement Agency’s efforts to develop technology to enable law enforcement to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.” What this means is essentially a road-side THC test.

As anyone familiar with cannabis knows, “marijuana” and hemp are the same plant. Any issues with “marijuana” boil down to legislation within the government itself. 

Side Note on Terminology: As we go through the many problems with McConnell’s proposal, we will also update the language McConnell uses. We are doing this because of the outdated nature of his language based on current industry standards

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Few people call cannabis “marijuana”. Within the industry, researchers, health care professionals, and patients all use the word “cannabis” as it is more accurate. Although McConnell referenced marijuana in the legislation, we’ll be relying on cannabis in this article. The distinction is needed sometimes as hemp IS cannabis but it’s not marijuana. Clear as mud?

The Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp

The only real difference between cannabis and hemp is one of government policy. It is an entirely arbitrary difference. As per the U.S. government drug scheduling, cannabis plants with over 0.3 percent THC are considered illegal, and a Schedule I substance. Anything under 0.3 percent THC is legal and considered a valuable and useful agricultural crop.

In summary, it’s legal to grow hemp, and at the federal level in the US, illegal to grow cannabis. The difference in legality comes down to the cannabinoid profile. This is still highly variable, even for farmers growing hemp.

Genetics plays some part in determining the final cannabinoid outcome. Growing conditions, environmental stressors, and other events in nature can also determine the cannabinoid profile.

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As we have seen this year, some farmers are struggling to keep their hemp crops legal and under the legal limit. Farmers with outside hemp fields are finding it tricky to understand cannabinoid development and manage it for legal harvests. The burgeoning hemp industry is plagued by reports of confiscated or failed THC tests. This is because their crops have run hot and grown into illicit cannabis profiles. Illicit being a THC level of over 0.3 percent.

Farmers aren’t trying to turn their legal hemp crops into illicit THC-rich cannabis crops. Why would they with such strict regulations? The truth is hemp as a species is prone to fluctuations and environmental influences.

The Problem with McConnell’s THC Test

McConnell didn’t define the test he wanted, so we must assume he means an on-site THC test. Essentially, because there is no measurable difference between hemp and cannabis besides the arbitrary one set by the DEA. So we must assume he means a test based on THC content.

Today, the THC test does exist, which is the other interesting aspect of this legislation. THC testing happens every day as cultivators across the country confirm potency, contamination, and cannabinoid profile of their harvests in medical or recreational cannabis.

There are already hundreds of third party laboratories performing these services within legalized states, some are even mobile. Furthermore, there are several consumer testing devices. These provide instantaneous THC tests for those curious about the potency of their edibles, flowers, and concentrates

How come the DEA needs additional resources to develop these tests when they already exist?


McConnell is a Pro-Hemp Politician, But Still Buys Into Drug War

If you look at his record, the hemp industry has never had a bigger advocate than McConnell. In the past year, he has ensured hemp farmers qualify for crop insurance. On top of that he called on the FDA to regulate the CBD industry. He is pushing for more hemp cultivation because his Kentucky constituents are eager to get on board such a lucrative train.

But in the same breath that he is fighting for hemp, he is also trying to maintain a “tough on crime” image. There is an election coming up, and this mentality plays well to voters.

McConnell is trying to appeal to the farmers in his state, and to the voters who want to continue the War on Drugs. Based on his political affiliations, he surely doesn’t want to be labeled as weak on crime going into a federal election. Therefore he must push strange legislation like THC testing, even if it doesn’t make much scientific sense.

Legalizing Hemp Causes Confusion Between Departments 

It’s easy to see how legalizing hemp has only led to more confusion between the policies of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Legislation targeting cannabis spreads into all three of these federal departments, who already have contradictory rules on the plant. The extremely arbitrary legal definition of hemp as under 0.3 percent THC has only complicated matters.

Did you know that cannabis is only illegal because one person said so?

The good news hidden in the depths of this confusion is that legalized hemp and a booming CBD industry have led to a changing cannabis agenda. No, cannabis rich in THC is not yet fully legal. However, the legalization of hemp has forced everyone to look at the outdated and contradictory laws. 

The approval of the first cannabis-derived drug forced the hand of the USDA and the DEA. Ensuring they altered their rules to match those of the FDA. Then followed the Farm Bill in 2018, which approved the cultivation of hemp. Taken together, these subtle shifts have turned into the most substantial cannabis policy changes in recent U.S. history. McConnell will likely get his THC tests before we see legal THC, but at least government policy is slowly shifting to what society demands.


Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.