Sep. 23—Since the beginning of the year, the Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team has seized and destroyed more than 420,000 plants.
Determining whether those plants were illicit and unlicensed marijuana — and sparing the Josephine County Sheriff's Office from lawsuits claiming the plants were legal hemp — is a testing machine known as a LightLab that gives police results in less than 10 minutes.
Det. Kile Henrich with JMET endorsed the LightLab 3 Cannabis Analyzer in a release issued Monday by Orange Photonics, the testing machine's manufacturer.
"Any region that has a drug enforcement operation should use the LightLab Cannabis Analyzer," Henrich stated in the Orange Photonics release. "LightLab saves time on having to take confiscated cannabis to a crime lab, a process which can take 30 days versus minutes for a test on-site."
"It saves months and prevents future lawsuits."
In prior years, Jackson and Josephine County faced lawsuits filed by growers that alleged that police had seized their legal hemp crop.
Those lawsuits were later thrown out for different reasons — some because the grower had still-pending criminal charges related to the incident, and others after judges ruled that the search warrants behind the raid were valid — but a key argument in the suits were that the plants were too big to be stored as evidence and thus the evidence was destroyed.
"People have cannabis and claim it's hemp. With LightLab we go to the site, take a sample, test it right there and show them that it's not hemp, it's marijuana," Henrich stated in the endorsement. "We don't want to destroy anybody's hemp."
When reached by email, Henrich said that Josephine County Sheriff's Office has used a LightLab machine for the past couple years.
"It has helped on site, and there have been times we have walked away from a grow that did not test above the legal (THC) limit," Henrich stated.
JMET has seized 422,354 plants in Josephine County between Jan. 1 and Sept. 21, the date of the most recently publicized raid at the former site of Red Mountain Golf Course in Grants Pass — along with 93 seized firearms and $1,081,671 in seized cash this year.
The 13.8 pound LightLab runs light through a sample derived from cannabis dissolved in a solvent to determine whether the strain predominantly contains the intoxicant THC or hemp-derived CBD.
A video on how to use the device outlines the steps in roughly 90 seconds, but getting results takes eight minutes.
The machine is also able to test samples derived from edibles, vape cartridges, edibles, powdered isolates and tinctures, according to the company.
The analyzer tailored for law enforcement purposes carries a sticker price that starts at $13,800, according to the Orange Photonics website. A calibration service kit — recommended after 1,000 tests or one year — costs $1,080 and an extended warranty and service package costs $2,080.
JMET is far from the only law enforcement agency that's used the machines. The Santa Barbara, California Sheriff's Office has also touted the benefits of the LightLab in a YouTube video linked on the Orange Photonics website.
The Jackson County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team, better known as IMET, also uses similar equipment, according to Jackson County Sheriff's Office spokesman Aaron Lewis, but JCSO does not publicly endorse private companies' products.
The company claims that across the United States, regulators and law enforcement have confiscated more than $2 billion worth of illicit marijuana plants and products.
Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.