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Hemp Vs. Pot: The Difference Can Send You To Prison

(CBS4) - It's a confusing problem facing law enforcement officers in Colorado: they seize what appears to be large, illegal quantities of marijuana, but it turns out to be hemp. Marijuana and hemp look the same and smell much the same, but the difference can send you to prison. Both come from the cannabis plant, but one produces a "high" while the other should not.

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Now, at least one inventor has a possible solution that could solve the problem.

"I was told $1 million in fines, 30 years in prison," said Megan Meyer, who was stopped along Interstate 70 in May.

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Meyer's truck contained boxes and some oil that she was delivering and she had the paperwork for the contents.

"They arrested me assuming I was transporting marijuana instead of CBD," she told CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger.

The psychoactive ingredient THC is very low in hemp, which is used for CBD. THC is much higher in marijuana, which produces the high.

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"I cooperated with him and was arrested and jailed in Eagle County," Meyer said.

For three months Meyer faced felony charges of transporting 160 pounds of marijuana and paid thousands of dollars in legal fees before the seized items could be tested and charges dropped.

Brian Smith is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Big Sur Scientific in California. His company has created a portable testing device that claims to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana in just two minutes. It's called the Big Sur Scientific BSS 3000.

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He took a granular sample and placed it on the machine that uses infrared light to analyze the product. In a short period of time it displayed the results: 8.72% THC, which is too high to be hemp, indicating it is marijuana.

For those who grow hemp and sell it for CBD, that percentage of THC is critical.

"If you go over the THC limit you lose your entire crop which could be millions of dollars to some farmers," Smith explained.

He then took a sample from a hemp plant and tested it. The results showed 0.23% THC, which is below the maximum to be considered hemp.

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Smith said if the police had such a device, Meyer could have been on her way rather than arrested and put in jail. When her products were finally tested, the low THC content indicated it was hemp.

"I feel relieved but I hope this a lesson for local law enforcement," Meyer said.

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