Officials in both states have voiced their intention to prevent prosecution of low-level marijuana cases.
When members of Congress voted to legalize hemp late last year, they likely didn’t envision that it might make it harder for enforcement in places like Florida and Texas. But that’s exactly what went on.
Officials in both Florida and Texas have voiced their intention to prevent the prosecution of low-level marijuana cases. That’s because no reliable field trial exists which can tell the difference between the presence of hemp, which won’t get you high, and cannabis, which will.
The nose doesn’t know
A state’s attorney in Florida recently announced he’s done prosecuting some marijuana crimes until a reliable field trial is developed. He also said he won’t authorize search warrants in cases where officers or police dogs smell marijuana because it could easily be hemp.
“Much of the search and seizure law hinges on either the officer’s or K-9’s ability to smell,” state’s attorney Jack Campbell wrote during a letter to enforcement agencies in his jurisdiction. “This seems to now be in significant doubt.”
Campbell’s 2nd Judicial Circuit encompasses Leon, Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Liberty, and Wakulla counties within the Florida Panhandle. And he’s not alone. Officials in Palm Beach County have stopped “sniff and search” – a situation where if a politician smelled marijuana, they might perform a warrantless search.
Campbell’s letter of frustration
In his letter, Campbell wrote extensively about how local officials are caught within the middle of laws that don’t always mesh. In Florida, hemp is now legal. Congress made hemp legal as a part of the 2018 bill, and therefore the Florida Legislature also passed its own action on the difficulty.
However, recreational marijuana remains illegal both at the national level and in Florida.
Hemp products are alleged to contain A level of THC that’s but .3 percent. But that’s impossible to inform just from watching hemp, which may look and smell a bit like cannabis.
Campbell said in some cases, current testing systems might indicate a positive THC result where no THC is present. He said the difficulty had created a “practical frustration,” but one that would be resolved if an accurate test is developed.
Texas confronts an equivalent issue
In Texas, the second-most populous state (Florida is third), an equivalent issue had led to “chaos,” consistent with the Texas Tribune. Texas Department of Public Safety officers have now been told to write down up those caught possessing but 4 ounces of marijuana with a misdemeanor citation instead of arresting them.
That’s because prosecutors within the state are beginning to do an equivalent thing as Campbell in Florida – not seek to prosecute low-level marijuana cases.
While the memo to officers in Texas stated that legalized hemp didn’t “negate evidence for marijuana-related offenses,” the state doesn’t currently have the testing equipment to reliably tell the difference between the presence of hemp or marijuana.