Feds take over marijuana prosecutions amid hemp legalization

Cropped Photo: Adrian Cable / CC BY-SA 2.0
Cropped Photo: Adrian Cable / CC BY-SA 2.0
Published: Aug. 19, 2019 at 4:31 PM EDT
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

August 19, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- After multiple state attorneys across Florida announced the legalization of hemp would delay or even halt some marijuana prosecutions, the U.S. Attorney for Florida’s Northern District has announced the feds will take the reigns.

The move could set new standards for marijuana prosecutions.

The legalization of hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive identical twin, propped state attorneys like Jack Campbell to reevaluate how they handle cases involving marijuana.

“We still are in a posture of trying to get the resources to be able to test it,” said Campbell.

In the meantime, Campbell and many other state attorneys have decided to delay or drop marijuana cases.

“The legislature is still very clear that marijuana is illegal in this state,” said Campbell. "They’re also very clear that hemp is legal in this state. So we just need to be able to differentiate.”

Now, U.S. Attorney of Florida’s Northern District Lawrence Keefe, who oversees 25 Florida counties, has said his office will take over the caseload.

"I welcome Mr. Keefe and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The resources they bring to bare are clearly wonderful and broad,” said Campbell.

Campbell said the federal cases will establish standards for pot prosecutions in the age of hemp.

“Things like an officer's ability to smell, a K-9's ability to smell, whether that still suffices for probable cause,” said Campbell.

With help from the DEA, the federal justice system is better equipped to distinguish hemp from marijuana than the state, which at the current time has no effective way to test the THC content of suspected pot without going through expensive private labs.

But President of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Richard Greenberg worries offenders will face stiffer penalties in federal court.

“I think it is unfortunate particularly this day in age when there's a movement toward lessening the penalties for marijuana,” said Greenberg.

It’s not clear what level of offenses Keefe intends to prosecute.

Campbell said his office alone handles more than 1,000 misdemeanor possession cases a year.

Keefe did indicate his office plans to temporarily deputize state prosecutors to help manage the marijuana cases.

However, we did not receive a response when we reached out to his office for more details.