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The Wyoming Department of Agriculture began testing for THC in hemp

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 9:19 AM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - The hemp industry continues to evolve in the state. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture can now test for THC levels at its Analytical Services Lab in Laramie, Wyoming.

The lab has USDA accreditation when it comes to testing hemp samples for THC. Derek Grant, Public Information Officer with WDA, said, “We had to do a lot of work on the back end to make sure that we were following USDA regulations. And that we could implement a program here in Wyoming.”

Jack Troester is one of the people working at the lab. He said when it comes to validation for the testing process, it can take a while. “So we had to measure, or calculate our level of certainty, that type of thing," he said. "It’s a lot of replicates day after day to make sure that you can always get an accurate and precise result.”

The process that the WDA uses includes taking the leaves of the plant off the stem. Once they’ve done that, they use a sieve to get the smaller branches and seeds filtered too. They split the sample of the leaves in half at that point before they put the leaves into a grinder. There will be two subsamples at that point. One to use for analysis and measuring the levels of THC. The other will be stored in case someone asks them to test the sample again.

Troester said its relatively easy to analyze THC because it’s easily dissolved. They use a technique called chromatography to figure out the levels of THC in the sample they’re working with.

Derek Grant said, “The main thing we’re excited about is that it’s an opportunity for another crop. The more opportunities and the more things, that our producers have to grow in Wyoming the better off.”

Below is some information provided by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture when it comes to testing for THC.

Hemp Lab DataJuly to September 28, 2020
SamplesSubmitted52
Rejected3, inspector submitted
Hemp42
Retest4
Pre-Regulatory6
Result Range0.01 to 1.41% delta-9-THC
% Passing Samples67%

Another aspect of the hemp industry in Wyoming is how law enforcement agencies are handling the legalization of hemp. In 2019, we reported on a load of hemp that was seized at a port of entry.

After getting back a public record request we learned that the Wyoming State Crime Lab received an invoice for $29,885.00 from NMS labs in Pennsylvania to test samples of the load seized in Uinta County.

We reached out to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Interim Director, Forrest Williams with some questions about the case from 2019. This is information that we’ve been pursuing throughout the past year, but because of different challenges, it did take some time.

Below are the questions we asked, and his responses.

Wyoming News Now | With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill and HB 171 by the Wyoming Legislature legalizing the production and transportation of Hemp, I’m wondering what resources DCI has available to identify hemp vs. marijuana?

Williams | The THC level is what distinguishes hemp from marijuana. If the THC level is .3% or lower, the plant material is identified as hemp, if the THC level is above .3%, then it is identified as marijuana. The only way the THC level can be determined is through a quantitative analysis procedure conducted by a scientific laboratory. The Wyoming State Crime Lab is currently in the process of setting up and validating a quantitative analysis procedure. At the current time, the Crime Lab has to outsource this analysis to other labs that have the capability to do quantitative analysis.

Wyoming News Now | It seems like a drug dog was used in this situation, what’s the risk of misidentifying hemp for drugs. I’ve been told by some farmers it’s hard to tell the plants apart.

Williams | Hemp and marijuana look similar. In order to correctly identify the plant material, it is necessary to do quantitative analysis.

Wyoming News Now | The state spent around $30,000 to ship this particular load of hemp to a different state to test the THC levels. Had the bill of lading been in line, do you think that this would have happened?

Williams | The law enforcement officers involved in this investigation as well as staff from the Attorney General’s office and the prosecutor of jurisdiction made decisions based off the totality of all the circumstances. This included the bill of lading, conflicting information as to the number of bags, terminology on the paperwork referencing “usable marijuana”, the level of THC documented on the paperwork, etc.

Wyoming News Now | There was one bag (item 33) in this particular case that seemed to stand out to highway patrol and DCI and this bag doesn’t seem to have been returned to the owner, why was this bag signaled out? Was it a different cut of hemp? Again, what training is being done to help with identifying hemp from marijuana?

Williams | Item 33 was not returned and after an authorized destruction order was obtained, this Item was destroyed. I do not know if this bag was a different “cut of hemp”, I believe the reason it stood out is because no one claimed ownership. The company did not claim ownership of the bag and its content and there was no other way to identify ownership.

With regard to training, we are focusing our efforts on making sure law enforcement understands it is necessary to do quantitative analysis.

Wyoming News Now | It seems like the bag that stood out to highway patrol during the initial seizure didn’t go back to the company and they didn’t claim ownership of it, but there’s nothing more in the report about why that was the case. Why would something like that happen? What happens to items that aren’t returned to the owners?

Williams | If law enforcement is not able to identify the rightful owner, depending on what the item is, various Wyoming laws provides guidance and direction on how to properly dispose of the item(s).

Wyoming News Now | Do you think that a situation brings to the forefront some of the challenges of policing illegal drug trafficking now that hemp is a legal crop?

Williams | Yes, frequently when new laws are implemented there is a “learning curve” for law enforcement agencies, prosecutor offices and others who work in the judicial system. This particular law has some unique challenges primarily related to the already mentioned quantitative analysis that is required to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

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