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TBI provides clarity on new two-step marijuana testing policy

"TBI remains opposed to the legalization of marijuana in any form."

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is clarifying its new marijuana testing procedures after releasing a memo to district attorneys and law enforcement saying it would generally no longer test levels of THC on misdemeanor amounts of the drug.

The TBI said while its agency will no longer conduct THC tests in marijuana if the amounts found don't rise to the level of a felony, it will still test misdemeanor amounts less than half an ounce in certain cases if specifically requested by district attorneys for a trial.

Marijuana is generally classified as strains of the plant containing greater than 0.3% THC, however the TBI recently moved to a two-step testing system that first looks at the ratio of THC to CBD to differentiate marijuana from hemp.

The first test -- called the color test -- does not reveal the level of THC in the plant they are testing. It was implemented in 2019 as a way to quickly and easily differentiate between hemp and marijuana strains of cannabis sativa in the field by testing for the ratio of THC to CBD, where hemp is classified as samples with a higher CBD ratio.

The colors that show up during the test indicate which ratio is higher: Pink means higher CBD levels, and blue means higher THC levels.

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If the test comes up blue for THC, the TBI lab then will test for the level of THC to determine if it is above the 0.3% legal limit. They said this test is more resource intensive than the color test, so they are opting only to test suspected felony levels of the drug or smaller amounts if specifically requested by district attorneys for a trial.

"Differentiating between hemp and marijuana has become a topic of great interest for crime labs on a national scale," the TBI said. "TBI remains opposed to the legalization of marijuana in any form."

The new tests only work for plant material, and does not apply to edibles, vape cartridges or other marijuana and hemp products.

WBIR legal analyst and attorney Don Bosch explained the TBI's drug testing policy doesn't mean a mass dismissal of misdemeanor plant marijuana cases.

"But it may have some impact on resolving those cases quicker and more favorably for a defendant caught with that amount," Bosch said.

Attorney General Charme Allen said her office stopped sending misdemeanor amounts of drugs to the lab about six months ago. Only those going to trial are sent to be tested.

"You don't even go to criminal court," Allen said in May 2019. "You're cited for that. You come into the session court and there's no jail time on less than half an ounce"

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