Idaho State police make largest pot bust in agency's history

Photo Credit: Idaho State Police 

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho State Police officials say troopers made the biggest marijuana bust in the agency's known history after a semi-truck allegedly filled with nearly 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of marijuana plants was stopped between Boise and Mountain Home.

ISP spokesman Tim Marsano said Tuesday the truck from Portland, Oregon, was stopped on Jan. 24 as part of a routine, random commercial vehicle safety inspection. The driver's bill of lading — a document that details the cargo in the shipment — said the trailer was carrying 31 bags of hemp.

Hemp and marijuana plants look and smell very similar to one another, but hemp plants typically contain less than 0.3 percent of THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — while marijuana plants generally contain anywhere from 15 to 40 percent THC. The plants also have different uses: Hemp can be used to produce a variety of products including food, industrial oil, paper, flour and clothing. Marijuana plants are often grown for their THC content, and are legal in Oregon, Washington and several other states but illegal in Idaho.

The trooper detected a strong odor of marijuana during the inspection, and so opened one of the bags and performed a field test, Marsano said. The field test showed the plant to be a marijuana plant, and a subsequent team of K9 drug-detection dogs that arrived also indicated that marijuana was present, he said.

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Marsano could not say how low of a THC content will generate a positive result by the field tests or whether the dogs were trained to differentiate between marijuana or hemp, however. Still, he said transporting anything containing THC is a chargeable offense in Idaho.

"Between the field test and the K9 indication, Idaho State Police feel strongly that the load was actually marijuana and not hemp," Marsano said. "However, we have sent a sample of the load to an independent laboratory for further analysis."

The driver, 36-year-old Dennis V. Palamarchuk of Portland, Oregon, has been charged with felony drug trafficking, Marsano said. It was not immediately known if he has obtained an attorney.

"This is the largest seizure of marijuana by the Idaho State Police in anyone's memory," Marsano said.

In total, the plants seized from the truck weighed 6,701 pounds (3,040 kilograms), he said. If the plants do test positive as marijuana, the seizure will dwarf totals seized by the ISP for each of the past five years. For instance, in 2014, the state police seized roughly 319 pounds (145 kilograms) of marijuana. Total seizures remained below 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) for the next two years, reaching a total of 2,131 pounds (967 kilograms) in 2018, Marsano said.

Marsano said he did not know when the independent lab would complete testing on the plants.