Hemp legalization poses legal conundrum for Florida police

A law legalizing hemp changed the definition of marijuana, causing district attorneys across...
A law legalizing hemp changed the definition of marijuana, causing district attorneys across the state to drop low-level possession cases and stop accepting new ones. (Cropped Photo: Barbetorte / CC BY-SA 3.0)(KOSA)
Published: Jul. 29, 2019 at 5:59 PM EDT
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

July 29, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Did the legislature inadvertently legalize marijuana when it made hemp legal earlier this year?

Not technically, but State Attorneys and law enforcement agencies throughout the state are facing a difficult question: how do you tell the difference between the two?

When lawmakers legalized hemp they distinguished the plant from its illicit cousin by specifying it must contain less that 0.3% THC.

But take a simple gummy bear for example.

Is it a piece of candy, a legal hemp product infused with CBD or an illegal high-THC marijuana edible?

The State Attorney of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Jack Campbell said old methods of identifying marijuana like smell or appearance can’t distinguish marijuana from hemp.

“It's the same thing as if somebody looked at a glass of alcohol. You might be able to smell and tell that there's alcohol, but you couldn't look or smell and say what the proof of it is,” said Campbell.

There’s also no field test that can make the distinction.

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is in charge of the state hemp program.

Her office told us a third-party company is currently developing a test that would distinguish between illegal marijuana and hemp.

However, if and when a test is created, Campbell said its effectiveness will have to be proven in court, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

“I have to be able to show that this test works. That it is scientifically validated,” said Campbell.

Until a test is available, Campbell predicts the legal conundrum will likely be handled differently throughout the state.

“I think you're going to have some agencies that are going to continue to arrest and seize. I think you are going to have some that are going to be concerned about possible wrongful arrest,” said Campbell.

Ultimately, Campbell said he believes a solution will be worked out, but the question of when and how people can protect themselves in the meantime is not clear for the time being.