A new piece of technology from Israeli company GemmaCert can tell the difference between cannabis and hemp within minutes.
The toaster-sized unit can measure the potency of THC and CBD to levels as low as 0.2 per cent, which could help groowers identify what is in their weed, and American cops distinguish between federally illicit cannabis and federally legal hemp.
GemmaCert analyzes weed samples and then cross references the results against the world’s largest cannabis flower database with thousands of varieties from all around the world, GemmaCert CEO Guy Setton told Mugglehead in an email.
It’s also the only device that doesn’t destroy the sample it’s testing, can analyze cannabinoid potency on the spot and can accurately test everything from whole flower to ground-up trim, Setton added.
At $5,300 per unit GemmaCert is marketed towards the production side of the industry, but that could soon expand to include law enforcement.
“These days we are in talks with multiple government and law enforcement agencies, especially those seeking a reliable field kit to distinguish between hemp and cannabis is real-time,” Setton said.
Cops taught to assume everyone is a drug dealer
Hemp, defined as weed with a THC potency below 0.3 per cent, is legal in the United States under the 2018 Farm Bill. But cannabis remains federally illegal and that has made for a real headache for police officers working to differentiate between virtually identical products, American cannabis lawyer Andrew Subin told Mugglehead in an email.
When shipping hemp within the United States Subin’s law firm, Vermont Cannabis Solutions, recommends companies include copies of the product’s lab certifications, state hemp cultivation permits and a letter explaining the hemp was grown in accordance with state law, he said.
But even then shipments could be stopped and seized.
“As one cop told me, it is possible the paperwork (lab test, permit, etc.) has been faked, or the shipment switched, and cops are trained to assume that everyone is a liar and drug dealer,” Subin said.
Current police field tests can only check presence, not potency, of cannabis
New York state hemp retailer Oren Levy knows all too well what harm can occur when cops assume the worst.
Levy’s company, Green Angel CBD, made international headlines last November when a legal hemp shipment was seized by the New York Police Department and Levy’s brother was arrested for trafficking cannabis.
A Fedex driver, who had been hired to transport 48 kilograms of legal hemp from Vermont to New York, mistook the cargo for illicit drugs and called the police, Levy said.
Vermont police seized the cargo, checked the paperwork, found it all in order and released it, Levy said. But the driver wasn’t convinced, so he crossed the state line and reported the shipment to the NYPD.
Once again the shipment was seized, tested, and came back positive for THC which led to Levy’s brother being arrested and charged with six counts of drug trafficking, Levy said.
The problem with the current field tests cops use to analyze weed is that the tests can’t determine cannabinoid potency, only presence, Subin said.
“According to their field test, even legal hemp does contain THC — the field tests used by the police cannot say how much THC, just THC yes or no. So even hemp will test positive for THC in the field because it contains up to 0.3 per cent THC,” Subin said.
Levy’s brother was later released without bail, and after two and a half months the 48 kilograms of hemp was given back to Levy. All charges against the company were dropped.
“I’ve lost over 15 pounds since this happened, by brother was falsely arrested and he’s lost weight also,” Levy said. “It’s a challenge, you gotta remember we were going up against some of the strongest people in the world and they can just take our freedom in a heartbeat. They’re going on TV and slandering me, telling the world I run an illegal business.”
Today, Levy is calling for improved police education around the difference between hemp and cannabis, and for the field tests to be thrown out entirely.
“They’re useless right now,” he said.
He’s also suing the NYPD and Fedex.
“For that $5,000 [for a GemmaCert] it could have saved me over US$100,000. And now we’re suing the city for US$20 million — $10 to $20 million — if they had a $5,000 test maybe they wouldn’t have to go through this,” he said.
Cops will have to trust hemp like they do apples
But cannabis lawyer Subin isn’t sure if GemmaCert is a silver bullet for law enforcement.
Unless the GemmaCert could produce results scientifically proven to be accurate it is unlikely to be allowed as evidence in a court case, he said.
“Ultimately, law enforcement must learn to trust the paperwork that accompanies lawful hemp shipments, and to treat the interstate shipment of hemp the same way they treat the interstate shipment of apples.”
In a side-by-side analysis, the industry-standard high-performance liquid chromatography test is more accurate than the GemmaCert, according to the company website. But where the GemmaCert excels in in testing entire batches, quickly and affordably, which it says HPLC is too slow and expensive to reliably do, it adds.
It’s also a tool that can benefit the medical industry, ethnobotanist (a scientist who studies how people interact with plants) Damon Giesbrecht told Mugglehead.
He runs a cannabis consulting practice with his wife Cara, an ethnopharmacologist (someone who works with naturally occurring substances) in Saskatchewan.
Cara’s Confidential helps growers analyze strain potency as well as identify grow site problems, Damon Giesbrecht said.
After 20 years in the industry he says he can look at most strains and understand what they are and what their potency is, similar to how a sommelier can taste wine and know what part of the world it comes from.
But the GemmaCert provides a more accurate analysis.
“There’s benefit for anyone who is a caregiver, who consults with us,” Giesbrecht said. “They’re able to absolutely, undeniably say this product is void of THC.”
“It takes the guesswork out of what I already know,” he added.
Top photo: The NYPD 75th Precinct pose with 48 kilograms of hemp seized from Green Angel CBD. “Working with FedEx and other local law enforcement, they were able to confiscate 106 Lbs. of marijuana, and arrest the individual associated with the intended delivery,” the precinct’s tweet read. All charges against Green Angel CBD were later dropped. Photo from NYPD Twitter.
Update: A pervious version of this story attributed emailed quotes from GemmaCert CEO Guy Setton to the liaising spokesperson.