Hemp vs. Marijuana; to prosecute or not

Local News

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A change in Tallahassee could have an impact at the way law enforcement officers look at marijuana.

On Wednesday, State Attorney Jack Campbell of the Second Judicial Circuit told the media his office is stopping the prosecution of marijuana cases without a confession or at least until a test is developed to distinguish hemp versus marijuana.

The second judicial circuit includes Leon, Franklin, Jefferson, Wakula, Liberty and Gadsden counties.

In July, state officials legalized hemp farming in the state of Florida and while state leaders believe this can be a huge economic boost, it may be making the job for officers a little tougher.

“This new hemp law has certainly imposed obstacles to law enforcement officers enforcing the laws that make it illegal to possess, sell or use marijuana in the state of Florida,” Chief Assistant State Attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, Larry Basford said.

The two plants are extremely similar but marijuana contains a higher level of THC, a psychoactive substance. Besides that, Basford says the two are extremely hard to tell apart.

“It smells the same, it looks the same, it feels the same. Some of the dogs are unable to distinguish between marijuana and hemp,” Basford said.

When officers come in contact with someone in possession of the plants, Basford says they’ll be taking more into account than just smell.

“They’ll be looking at, was there any other illegal activity, what statements did the person arrested make at the time of the arrest.”

He says some of those arrests involving marijuana could also lead to more charges for the person in question.

“For instance, cocaine, methamphetamines, the illegal use of opioids and other drugs like that.”

When asked if the 14th judicial circuit may be following the example of Tallahassee, Basford says unless the law changes, they’ll conduct business as usual.

“We are sworn in to enforce the laws. We don’t legislate. We have to enforce the laws. If the laws change, then that will certainly change the way we go about prosecuting cases.”

Basford says the amount of marijuana and offending history dictates how much someone will pay for the possession of the plant.

“The penalty for possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana in the state of Florida is a first-degree misdemeanor. That’s punishable by up to a year in the county jail or a $1,000 dollar fine. However, if an individual possesses more than 20 grams of marijuana or if the individual is selling marijuana in the state of Florida, that is a third-degree felony. That is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 dollar fine,” said Basford.

Basford says though, if it is someone’s first offense, they may just be sentenced to probation.

The 14th Judicial Circuit includes Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties. Glenn Hess serves as the State Attorney.

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