Action News Jax Investigates hemp vs. marijuana: Florida's new hemp law is causing confusion

Florida's new hemp law causing confusion over marijuana legality

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax reporter Ben Becker is investigating how law enforcement and state officials are dazed and confused as they try to figure out Florida’s new hemp law.

Senate bill 1020 became law July 1, and it says hemp with 0.3 percent THC, the compound that gets you high, is legal.

Marijuana contains between 5% and 20% THC.

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But, there isn’t a reliable way for law enforcement officers on the road or Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents in the lab to  test the percentage of THC  in hemp or marijuana that  look and smell the same and come from the same plant.

“I have a co-worker who uses hemp cigarettes that smells like weed,” said Cheryl Hill.

Action News Jax law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said the confusion is a big problem for law enforcement agencies.

“The result is there are going to be arrests and the State Attorney’s Office is going to have to sort it out”

The Florida Sheriffs Association sent out this legal alert:

"SB 1020 took effect on July 1 and it amended the definition of cannabis in Florida Statute 893.02(3).  Hemp is now excluded from the definition of cannabis provided that the THC concentration does not exceed .3 percent on a dry weight basis. Hemp looks and smells like cannabis (marijuana), and current field tests for marijuana likely do not distinguish hemp from marijuana.  Sheriffs should not assume that a positive field test provides probable cause to search or arrest; additional factors may be needed to satisfy local courts such as concealment of the product, the quantity and packaging of the product, any contradictory statements, etc.  Similarly, it is unlikely that drug detecting canines may be able to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.  Sheriffs should determine if their canines can detect hemp as opposed to marijuana.  Assuming they cannot, additional factors aside from a canine alert may be needed to establish probable cause. There are field testing kits available from the Syndicate Alliance that can test for hemp, but validation of their reliability is still pending.  It is important to note that FSA advised legislators of the enforcement issues created by this legislation that are now upon us. Further discussion on this topic will be conducted during Executive Session at Summer Conference on July 30th.  In the meantime, sheriffs should discuss the impact of this legislation with their legal advisors, state attorneys, and other local law enforcement agencies to decide how this law will be administered in their judicial circuit. "

Becker contacted the three largest law enforcement agencies in Northeast Florida.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said, “Marijuana arrests are still being made.”

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said it is “reviewing the issue and using more caution when making arrests.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said it will "continue to enforce the law and use good discretion.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and it passed in the House in a 112-1 vote and in the Senate in a 39-0 vote.

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Bradley sent Becker this statement:

"The rule making process is under way at the federal and state level.
Production of hemp will not begin until the rule making process is complete.
If necessary, the issue can be addressed either by rule or during the next legislative session, where committee weeks are beginning in September.
This is an emerging industry- hiccups are to be expected and any kinks will be worked out as industry regulations evolve.  Florida is going to be a world leader in hemp production."

Becker requested an interview with State Attorney Melissa Nelson and is waiting to hear back.