In most parts of the United States, it is common to ask: “Is marijuana legal now?” If you live in New Jersey, you may be especially unsure of the answer. As of the time of this writing, marijuana is legal for certain medical purposes and a bill legalizing recreational use is currently working its way through the state legislature (without a guaranteed outcome).
Of course, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but federal lawmakers recently legalized the sale of hemp, which is very similar to marijuana except in one very important way: It contains nearly none of the high-causing chemical THC that is found in pot. With such a confusing patchwork of state and federal laws as well as a patchwork of legal and illegal marijuana-derived products, how is anyone supposed to know which side of the law they are on?
As it turns out, this is causing major problems, especially for people who legally transport marijuana-derived products across state lines. According to a recent news report, police are making major busts of truck drivers transporting legal hemp because there is no easy way to tell the difference between hemp and traditional marijuana.
The only way to tell the difference is to measure the level of THC in a product, which can’t yet be done with a portable field testing device. If police rely on drug-sniffing dogs, the dogs will “alert” to both marijuana and hemp despite the lack of THC in it.
Oregon cultivates legal hemp, but much of it is transported to Colorado to be processed. Getting there often requires a trip through Idaho, where hemp is still illegal under state law. Police in Idaho have arrested truck drivers and security guards overseeing transports of hemp cargo. The expensive cargo is warehoused as evidence and the drivers/guards are charged with serious felonies for drug trafficking. Even if they are eventually acquitted, most will have lost valuable time in jail and potentially the loss of what they were transporting.
Unfortunately, this difficult issue and legal confusion will continue until or unless the United States agrees on more uniform marijuana laws (and in our current political climate, agreement of any kind is in short supply). In the meantime, each of us needs to realize that the legal status of marijuana and derivative products is constantly in flux. If you find yourself facing drug charges, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.