The legalization of hemp as a crop has led to some great things. (Yay, hemp!) But nothing is everything all the time, and legal hemp is causing some massive headaches for officials in Florida (much like the type of headaches you get when you smoke hemp). It’s a very special Florida problem—which should probably be the state motto.
Last month, deputies in some Florida counties announced that the methods used to “field test” plants suspected of being cannabis (as opposed to hemp or, I don’t know, ferns) cannot distinguish between a cannabis plant and a hemp plant. The horror! These are the standardized tests used nationwide, and are currently the only options. To get better results, law enforcement would need to submit the suspected cannabis to an accredited brick-and-mortar lab to establish the presence of more than 0.3 percent THC, the legal limit for hemp. That poses two problems: It’s far more expensive, and would sidestep a Florida law enforcement favorite, the ever popular “sniff ‘n’ search.”
That’s when a law enforcement officer can conduct a search of your car without a warrant, because they claim they smell cannabis. (People of color, please raise your hand if you have experienced this, and that’s, let’s see, yep, 100 percent of those hands.) But that isn’t something Florida cops are allowed to do now, because hemp and cannabis smell the same, to both humans and drug-sniffing very good dogs.
The Palm Beach Post tells of an email sent out by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, informing law enforcement that “PBSO’s lab does not currently have the equipment, personnel, or certification needed to do quantitative analyses to determine whether the substance has a legal amount of THC. Further, we will not be able to prosecute any marijuana or THC oil cases without a test from an accredited lab indicating that the THC content is over .3 percent. With this in mind, each agency and its legal advisors will need to make decisions on when to seize suspected marijuana/THC oil and when to make an arrest.”
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Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told the Palm Beach Post, “With the voters approving medical marijuana and lawmakers green lighting hemp, it’s now nearly impossible to enforce marijuana possession or trafficking laws.”
Snyder told his deputies to stop making cannabis arrests. Shortly after that, State Attorney Bruce Colton issued a memo saying, “Officers should not make a probable cause arrest for a cannabis-related offense” until labs are set up for testing. He was joined in this assessment by fellow state attorney Jack Campbell, who announced his office would no longer be prosecuting cannabis possession cases until the labs are fixed. As he told High Times, “There’s literally no state lab in the state of Florida that can do testing and say ‘this is hemp,” or ‘no, this is marijuana.'”
But the feds were certainly not having any of this “let’s stop prosecuting people for cannabis possession until we get us some proper labs” silly-talk, so the Northern District of Florida US Attorney’s Office swooped in to assure that they will continue to prosecute cannabis possession cases, and would even be reviewing the cases that the State Attorney General had opted not to pursue. This new, potentially tremendous caseload won’t be hampered by such concerns as overstaffing and budget, because the Northern Florida US Attorney’s Office has a plan, see?
As High Times reports, “The US Attorney also announced that its office would be looking into the possibility that assistant state attorneys could be sworn in as federal attorneys in order to pursue marijuana cases.” In other words, Florida law enforcement’s reasonable, modern response to cannabis enforcement is being superseded by outdated federal prohibitionist policies. Oh, Florida. Can’t you ever catch a break?