Those hoping for a respite from cannabis possession-related charges in Florida shouldn’t get too comfortable, even after top prosecutors announced that the state has limited technology to pursue such offenses. The Northern Florida US Attorney’s office sent out a press statement saying that it will continue to prosecute marijuana possession cases, and that it will even review cases that have been set aside by state attorneys.
The feds have even considered the staffing concerns that could arise by prosecuting cannabis crimes. The US Attorney also announced that its office would be looking into the possibility that assistant state attorneys could be sworn in as federal attorneys in order to pursue marijuana cases. Attorney General Ashley Moody and Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox have already given their permission to have some of their assistants temporarily sworn in as these “Special Assistant United States Attorneys.”
The move is in response to State Attorney Jack Campbell’s July announcement that his office will not be prosecuting cannabis possession cases going forward. Campbell said that the state is not equipped with tests that can tell the difference between marijuana and hemp, the latter of which is now legal. There is a chance that this policy will change if the state gets its hands on testing technology that is capable of making the distinction.
“There’s literally no state lab in the state of Florida that can do testing and say ‘this is hemp,” or ‘no, this is marijuana,’” Campbell told a local news site. The US Attorney also suggested that Campbell himself could participate in the “Special Assistant United States Attorneys” program.
Martin County Sheriff William Synder has also told officers that they will no longer be arresting people on charges of cannabis possession.
Campbell’s announcement is not the only recent political movement away from prosecuting cannabis-related crimes in the state. In July, the Florida Police Legal Bureau sent a memo to the press clarifying the fact that marijuana odor would no longer be deemed a reasonable criteria for police traffic stops. Rather, cops will have to be able to identify other factors to justify stops and searches.
That’s certainly not to say that the state has erased cannabis stigma. Earlier this month, South Florida’s Homestead Hospital diagnosed a patient as a drug abuser after he told doctors that he is a licensed medical marijuana user, and consumes the drug as part of treatment for his epilepsy.
In August, Representative Shevrin Jones introduced HB 25, a cannabis decriminalization bill that would render the possession of less than 20 grams from a first-degree misdemeanor to no longer be a criminal offense. Currently, such possession charges can be punished with up to a year in jail, a year of probation, and a $1,000 fine.
But even if such decriminalization measures are passed, it’s important to note that Florida residents will still need to watch out for the US Attorney. A reminder: federal prosecutors can go after individuals for cannabis-related federal offenses, even in cannabis-legal state or local jurisdiction. In fact, they can do it even if the individual has already been charged or punished by their state or local jurisdiction.