Virginia law enforcement could soon have another tool to help distinguish marijuana from CBD, a move that comes after a News4 I-Team investigation found flaws with commonly used drug field tests.
On Wednesday, the commonwealth’s top forensic scientist recommended police officers incorporate a new drug field test, developed by Swiss police, that turns distinct colors when a material contains more marijuana than its hemp cousin, CBD.
Speaking at a board meeting, Linda Jackson said her office ran extensive validation tests on the Swiss kits and recommends police officers use them in tandem with the former kits.
The old kits, called Duquenois-Levine reagent tests, can determine whether the material in question is a cannabinoid, which includes marijuana and CBD. The Swiss tests can then be deployed to help officers determine whether the substance is pot or CBD, Jackson said.
The Swiss tests should not be used alone, she told the Virginia Department of Forensic Science board, because they can produce false positives.
“In our mind, they really need to be used together,” Jackson said of the two tests.
Jackson said grant money from the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services will help purchase 15,000 kits for Virginia police.
That’s welcome news to Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard, who said changing CBD laws have made it difficult for officers to successfully crack down on illegal marijuana. In March, Virginia made it legal for hemp-derived CBD products to contain up to 0.3% THC, the chemical that can produce a high.
"It’s pretty clear that [the Swiss] test is an extra tool for the officers to determine whether something is truly marijuana or if it’s hemp,” DeBoard said.
John Waldheim, the sole U.S. distributor of the Swiss kits, said he’s aware of limitations with the tests when it comes to non-cannabinoid materials. But he believes the Swiss kits work appropriately when used to distinguish pot from CBD.
In Florida, where the law recently changed to allow CBD with up to 0.3% THC, law enforcement agencies have been rushing to purchase the new kits. Waldheim said he’s now received orders from North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee, as well, and is in the process of creating a U.S. distribution center.
It’s unclear how soon the Swiss tests could be deployed to Virginia police.
In the meantime, Jackson said her department is working on instructions for how to use the Swiss kit in conjunction with the old tests. Officers who suspect a material to be marijuana are directed to send it to the state lab for further testing, she said.
This story was reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot by Steve Jones and Jeff Piper.