The Effects of Florida’s New Hemp Law

September 17, 2019

As of July 1, hemp is now legal in the state of Florida. This change to the state’s drug law has had a significant impact on how prosecuting and drug defense attorneys in Tavares, FL alike handle their drug crime cases.

Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant that is primarily grown to be used in industrial applications. The plants and flowers can be very difficult to tell apart from the cannabis plants that remain illegal, but the THC content is really what separates the two in the eyes of the law. Hemp has only a very small concentration (0.3 percent or less) of the psychoactive substance, which, combined with the plant’s industrial benefits, is why the state decided to legalize it.

Complications associated with the new law

The big complication that now exists thanks to the legalization of hemp is that labs run by the state’s Department of Law Enforcement are only able to test whether THC is present in a sample or not—not the amount of THC that’s present. The obvious issue that arises here, then, is that previously the state did not really need to know whether a sample was marijuana or hemp—they were both illegal. Now, with hemp being legal, the difference between the two becomes much more important in the eyes of law enforcement, but testing would have to be performed at labs outside of Florida where the amount of THC can be more easily determined.

State officials must then consider the costs of sending samples out of state to test for THC concentration. Those costs, as well as the process of obtaining expert witnesses to testify about the samples in court, would prove prohibitive in almost all cases the state oversees.

In addition, hemp and illegal cannabis are very similar in smell. This means police officers will have a much harder time obtaining probable cause if they believe they smell marijuana, because the suspect could easily argue that he or she is carrying hemp, and the officer wouldn’t be able to easily tell the difference. The officer would have to search for additional factors such as impairment of the suspect or specific statements or admissions.

In a memo from the State Attorney’s Office, it was therefore revealed that due to these evidentiary hurdles and trial time constraints, a laboratory test will be required before filing any cannabis-related charge.

If all of this sounds like a win for the defense in cannabis-related cases in Florida, that’s because it is. These new guidelines are expected to have a significant impact on the number of marijuana cases that will be processed in the state. There will still be civil citations and non-criminal options for handling cases, but there will be far fewer criminal charges issued for cannabis, even when the alleged offender is in possession of illegal cannabis.

Obviously, all of these changes are still very fresh, so it remains to be seen how they will affect drug crime cases in the state in the long run. But for now, if you are interested in learning more about how the legalization of hemp could potentially affect your case, we encourage you to contact an experienced drug defense attorney in Tavares, FL at K.J. Law P.A. today.

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