With the passage of new hemp-legalization laws over the past eight months, crime labs across the country have suddenly found themselves unable to prove that a leafy green plant taken from someone’s car is marijuana, rather than hemp, NBC News reports. Marijuana looks and smells like hemp but has more THC, the chemical that makes people high.
Without the technology to determine a plant’s THC level, labs can’t provide scientific evidence for use in court. Without that help, prosecutors have to send evidence to expensive private labs that can do the tests or postpone cases until local labs develop their own tests, a process that could take months.
Rather than deal with prohibitive costs or lengthy delays, prosecutors in several states, including Texas, Florida and Ohio, are dropping low-level pot cases altogether or declining to bring new ones. Police in those states are now unsure whether their age-old pretext for searching cars ─ the smell of pot ─ is still valid. Some have been told not to make any arrests for marijuana possession, although they can issue tickets and confiscate the suspected drugs for testing later.
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There is no way to determine how many cases have been imperiled by the new laws, but they number in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, law enforcement officials say.