Field test kits will help police distinguish between marijuana and hemp

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Field test kits for police to help distinguish illegal marijuana from legal industrial hemp — both cannabis plants — will be distributed to departments across Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science notified law enforcement agencies last month that 16,150 kits have been purchased for $97,500 using a grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The two plants look and smell the same. But cannabis that has a level of THC — the chemical that produces a high — of 0.3% or less is now legal in the possession of growers, dealers and processors who are registered with the state government.

The Duquenois-Levine field test that previously was widely used by police to identify cannabis will still be used to determine if suspect material is cannabis.

If so, then the new test kit, dubbed 4-AP, will be used to indicate if it is marijuana, requiring further testing. A video produced by the Virginia State Police and Department of Forensic Science on how the new test is used can be found at

The 4-AP test cannot determine THC content, but it can indicate whether the THC concentration in the suspect material is greater that the concentration of another cannabidiol, CBD. The rapidly growing hemp industry is fueled largely by CBD, touted as having various health benefits.

If the liquid used in the 4-AP test turns blue, the material is likely marijuana and should be submitted to the state laboratory for further testing.

If the liquid turns pink, it indicates the CBD content is greater than the THC and generally means the material should not be submitted for further testing, authorities said.

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