Hemp Legalization is Making it Harder to Prosecute Marijuana Crimes
On Nov. 3, 2019, the NYPD seized a 106-pound hemp shipment bound for a CBD business thinking it was illegal marijuana and boasted about it on social media. Under the recently-approved Federal Farm Bill, hemp is now treated like any other crop. Despite the shipment having all the necessary paperwork to prove its legitimacy, an overzealous FedEx driver and group of officers with the 75th Precinct couldn’t let the delivery occur in peace.
The owner of Green Angel CBD claims that the NYPD officers who diverted his shipment relied on an outdated marijuana test to determine the substance was illegal. Hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant; however, legal hemp has less than 0.3% THC by volume and is used in many applications.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets users high. Those who rely on hemp for medicine and other products do not experience the same effects as marijuana users. The lawyer representing Green Angel CBD claims that the NYPD’s outdated testing method is no longer relevant; whether a substance contains THC is no longer enough to seize the substance. What matters now is whether it contains .3% or more THC by volume.
The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the DEA’s Schedule I controlled substances list. Green Angel CBD specializes in delivering medicine containing cannabidiol (CBD) to cancer, epilepsy, and chronic pain patients, and people with skin conditions, autism, arthritis, and other medical issues. The large hemp shipment, seized in Brooklyn, was a substantial financial blow to his business.
Eventually, the NYPD called the owner of Green Angel CBD to pick up his shipment with an apparently sinister motive. The owner, who could not attend, sent his brother to the precinct to pick it up for him. When the brother arrived, the NYPD placed him in handcuffs. A judge later released him without bail. To date, the NYPD has not returned the shipment, worth $30,000. Green Angel CBD has asked the NYPD to return the crop, which will lose potency over time.
The shocking story of the NYPD confiscating a lawful hemp delivery to a legitimate cannabis business sheds light on some of the challenges of prosecuting marijuana offenses in states where recreational marijuana remains illegal. In several jurisdictions throughout Florida, state attorneys are avoiding prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana offenses (like possession of fewer than 20 grams) until further notice.
New Challenges for the Prosecution of Marijuana Offenses
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp that contains less than .3% THC by volume is no longer a Schedule I controlled substance. The bill allows for the transfer of hemp and hemp-derived products across state lines. There is no restriction on the sale, transportation or possession of hemp and hemp-derived products, as long as these products have a THC level that remains below that threshold.
While this is good news for the hemp industry, prosecutors throughout the country are having a tough time pursuing marijuana possession charges. Marijuana is nearly indistinguishable from hemp. They look and smell the same, and it’s no longer sufficient for an officer to rely on the appearance and odor of a substance resembling marijuana to arrest a suspect. To tell the difference, confiscated cannabis must be sent to specialized labs to measure the level of THC. These labs are few and far between and this can be an extremely costly and complicated endeavor for resource-strapped law enforcement agencies.
Some complications facing prosecutors include:
- Judging a substance by the smell and appearance is no longer sufficient to establish probable cause.
- Current field tests and narcotics-trained K9 units are not capable of differentiating between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.
- To prosecute a cannabis offense now, law enforcement agencies would have to submit the drugs to a DEA-licensed laboratory for testing before filing formal charges. This increases the costs of pursuing criminal charges, especially when labs that can run these tests are out-of-state and there are no established procedures for transporting the samples.
Many jurisdictions in Florida are pausing the seizure of marijuana unless the suspect admits to possessing contraband. Currently, there is no lab in Florida that can run the necessary tests to prove that a cannabis-derived substance is illegal weed.
Fighting Marijuana Charges in Central Florida
Florida voters are inching closer and closer to approving the use of recreational marijuana. Voters are likely to decide that issue in 2020 through a ballot referendum to change the state constitution. Until then, many police officers are still arresting people suspected of having marijuana on them, even though many prosecutors have ordered them to temporarily hold off on making these arrests.
If you’ve been arrested for marijuana possession or related charges in Orlando or a nearby city, you can trust the attorneys with The Umansky Law Firm to protect your rights. Our attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience defending people facing drug charges. We are highly-regarded among judges, lawmakers, prosecutors, and others in the criminal sphere and can use our positive connections to benefit your case. We are Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyers and Death Penalty Certified Lawyers who passionately defend people facing misdemeanor, felony, and federal drug charges in Central Florida.
Find out how we can help you craft a proper defense strategy by calling our office or completing our contact form. We’re available 24/7 to answer all your questions at this challenging time.