Hemp farming laws posing problems for marijuana prosecutions

Published: Aug. 27, 2019 at 7:48 PM CDT
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Marijuana remains illegal in the state of Nebraska but the recent legalization of hemp farming in the state is blurring the lines and right now it’s left local prosecutors with their hands tied.

Pat Condon the Lancaster County Attorney says they are continuing to test and prosecute those accused of possessing and selling large amounts of marijuana but those smaller amounts are proving to be more complicated.

“We have halted at least for the time being the prosecution of certain marijuana cases,” said Condon. “The infraction cases, less than an ounce.”

Condon says since May when the law legalizing hemp farming in Nebraska passed that proving a substance is actually marijuana and not hemp is a task that Nebraska is not currently equipped to do in state.

“Right now the testing from the state lab, that testing procedure shows it as cannabis and that doesn’t really effect or satisfy the statue as being more or less than .3% THC,” said Condon. “We would have to quantify that level of THC and right now no lab in the state of Nebraska quantifies that level of THC.”

Condon says in Lancaster County alone, those changes have already affected or halted about 60 cases that involved just a marijuana charge. That number gets bigger if you also factor in cases that involved one or more charge like speeding and possession.

Included in those halted cases is the four Husker football players recently cited.

“We have not been charging the citations so the Husker football players were treated no different than any other individual that got tickets after May 30th,” said Condon.

Condon says his office has 18 months from the time police ticketed any of those people to actually file charges.

Tim Noerrlinger is a former prosecutor and current defense lawyer in Lincoln.

“The offense that we’re dealing with generally speaking is a $300 dollar fine of a $400 dollar fine with a prior offense,” said Noerrlinger.

Condon says that the total cost to test if a substance is marijuana is about $1,500 dollars. That cost includes travel, lab time, materials and testimony time, among other things.

“It’s probably not cost effective to test all these items and then re-calibrate and bring them into court,” said Noerrlinger.

For now Lancaster County is still exploring cost-effective THC testing options.

“What the test will do is say it’s over 1% THC,” said Condon. “It’ll quantify it to the point where it says based on the testing procedures this substance is over 1% THC.”

Condon also says that law enforcement protocol in regards to marijuana possession are continuing as normal.