FHP gets new tool to help detect THC in e-cigarettes

Deputies in St. Johns and Clay are also exploring the technology

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are now using new technology to identify illegal drugs.

New narcotics test kits have been handed out to troopers patrolling highways, and multiple agencies are exploring their options to distinguish THC vape pens from vape pens containing something else like nicotine during investigations.

Nathaniel Howard said he enjoys flavored nicotine because it's helped him to stop smoking cigarettes altogether, but flavored tobacco isn't the only thing people are vaping nowadays.

One out of every 11 high school students in the U.S. have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, according to a school-based study by the Associated Press.

"I do believe a lot of people are doing it out there in public and people aren't away of it," Howard said.  

It's something local law enforcement officers are trying to get a handle on.

The News4Jax I-TEAM has learned that deputies in St. Johns and Clay Counties are exploring technology that would allow them to identify what kind of oil is in a vape pen or electronic cigarette. 

FHP has also recently stepped up their efforts, in helping troopers distinguish marijuana from hemp, during traffic stops. 

"What we do now is take an extra step with the cannabis typification device test kit which is this one here and it allows us to determine the level of percentage of THC that's in that substance," FHP spokesman Dylan Bryan said. 

If suspected marijuana contains lower than a 3-percent THC level, troopers can quickly determine it’s hemp instead. It's technology that became necessary after Senate Bill 1020 passed in July, authorizing a statewide hemp program. 

Identifying drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl is also easier for troopers who are utilizing what’s called the True Narc system. It allows troopers to identify suspected narcotics in packaging with laser technology, without troopers having to remove or disturb the substance. 

"What are the benefits of this very expensive piece of equipment is the fact that the officer does not have to handle illegal substances or unknown substances at this point with their hands or with gloved up personal protection. They leave it in the packaging and this device will test it through the package and can tell the officer exactly what it is," Bryan said. 

Test kits are also being developed to help local law enforcement identify the presence of THC in edibles, like gummy bears and brownies and cookies. The drawback right now is that the test kits on the market currently are extremely expensive. 

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