The state’s top crime lab is giving law enforcement agencies another tool when it comes to drug arrests.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation now can determine whether a substance is marijuana or hemp in response to Ohio House Bill 57 that legalized the use of hemp last year.

Steve Irwin, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said BCI is replacing techniques like microscopic examination and chemical color testing with instruments called liquid chromatograph ultraviolet mass spectrometers, or LC/UV/MS.

Hemp and marijuana both belong to the cannabis genus of plants. Hemp generally contains less than 0.3 percent of THC while marijuana can contain 30 percent of THC, the substance that causes the intoxicating high associated with drug use, according officials.

“It’s going to be a very big help for us when we have a large supply of marijuana,” Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Bokovitz said. “There’s not going to be one question about if it’s marijuana. We’re going to be able to send it to the lab and they’re going to be able to tell us, yes, it is.”

Geauga Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Thomas Rowan said the new technology will not make as big a difference in Geauga because arrests involving large quantities of substances are less frequent when compared to other counties or large cities.

“I think it’s just business as usual for us in law enforcement,” he said. “The marijuana arrests that we typically make, there’s all kinds of [other chargers] going on as well, not just the hemp product.” Substances found by deputies during an arrest are sent for testing before charges are filed, Mr. Rowan explained.

Mr. Irwin said this is significant in another way because BCI will not be charging local law enforcement agencies for testing. This would help eliminate costs from the narcotics identification kit tests that departments currently are using.

“You put a tiny sample in a little test tube and you shake it up,” Chief Bokovitz said describing the test in the kit. “If it comes up blue, it’s marijuana.”

Tests like these can determine if THC is present but cannot differentiate between small and large amounts.

In Chagrin Falls, Police Chief Amber Dacek said the test should be available soon. “Our field kits are only considered a presumptive positive for identification purposes.  For court purposes, all drugs have to be lab tested,” Chief Dacek said. The nearest BCI location for testing is in Richfield but the chief said the state has not notified her department about which lab officers should be used.

Orange Police Chief Christopher Kostura said the change give departments the ability to test at BCI instead of going to a private lab.

Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said since the passage of HB 57, police agencies have struggled to enforce drug laws due to the difficulty of distinguishing between marijuana and hemp.

Private lab testing can be expensive for departments.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the new test creates a valuable resource for officers at no cost to the communities.

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