New Hemp Law Complicates Enforcement of Illegal Marijuana Laws

In June of this year, a new law was enacted in Florida (SB 1020) that legalized possession and use of hemp. The law was passed to create a state-run hemp program to permit the cultivation of hemp, which is considered an agricultural commodity. Hemp comes from the same plant that also grows cannabis, a controlled substance. However, the difference between legal hemp and illegal cannabis lies within the plant (Cannabis sativa L.) itself--a chemical compound known as THC. THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient that gets people "high." Hemp, as defined in Florida, contains very little THC and does not produce the "high" as does its counterpart, cannabis.

The problem for law enforcement is that legal hemp and illegal cannabis are indistinguishable without chemical testing. They look the same, smell the same, and feel the same-even to highly trained officers. This will make probable cause determinations more difficult in the future. Before the law was passed, law enforcement could easily establish probable cause based upon their own senses of sight, touch, and smell. Any experienced defense lawyer has read reports from law enforcement that found probable cause based upon the officers "training and experience." As of now, there isn't enough "experience" with cannabis or training offered that would enable an officer to distinguish what is illegal cannabis or legal hemp. In other words, what looks and smells like pot, may not be pot after all.

Many arrests are made after a search and seizure that reveals or confirms illegal activity. If you, or some you care for, has questions about how this law will affect their case, contact our experienced attorneys today.

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