State Attorney Jack Campbell says his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases at the moment. At issue is confusion over a new state law legalizing hemp.
Florida’s new hemp law allows the cultivation and sale of hemp products like CBD oil and fabric. And under the law, hemp can contain up to .3% of THC, which is the ingredient that produces a high and is found in marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, and the field tests police use to test for THC can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.
“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,’” Campbell said in a previous interview with WFSU News.
The issue is stumping law enforcement throughout the state. The Second Judicial Circuit is not alone in its decision to put the breaks on marijuana possession prosecutions. The Palm Beach Post reports Martin County Sherriff William Synder told his deputies to stop making marijuana arrests.
The issues are emerging as the Florida Department of Agriculture works to craft new rules for the hemp program. A spokesman for the agency says its looking into the issue.
Florida’s hemp-marijuana problems aren’t happening in a vacuum. District attorneys in Texas recently announced they’ve dropped hundreds of low-level possession charges and some of them are also no longer prosecuting marijuana possession cases.
None of the state labs in Texas are capable of distinguishing hemp from weed either, according to an advisory from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
“The distinction between marijuana and hemp requires proof of the THC concentration of a specific product or contraband, and for now, that evidence can come only from a laboratory capable of determining that type of potency — a category which apparently excludes most, if not all, of the crime labs in Texas right now,” the advisory said.
Both Texas’ and Florida’s laws draw language from the federal Farm Bill. So, it’s not unlikely other states could see similar problems, as well.
Both Campbell and the Tallahassee Police Department note marijuana possession is still illegal, and TPD says it “will continue investigating suspected marijuana cases. In the event that probable cause is established TPD will seize the evidence for potential prosecution.”
Some third-party labs are developing field tests that could tell if a cannabis sample contains more or less than 1% THC, but Campbell said there’s no timeframe on when those could be available for use.
In the meantime, he said, “I think you’re probably going to see people get caught or arrested when they have CBD or hemp, thinking that it’s illegal. And I think that the reverse is also true.”