The top federal prosecutor for northern Florida wants to go after cannabis-related cases that other prosecutors in the state have opted not to pursue due to uncertainties over what’s legal and what’s not.
The legalization of hemp under federal and Florida law has prompted some state prosecutors in Florida to delay or even stop pursuing individuals cultivating or using marijuana because of difficulties in distinguishing between marijuana and hemp. Both federal and Florida laws allow for the cultivation, sale and use of hemp products, which is defined as cannabis containing very small amounts of THC (no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis), the psychoactive component that gets cannabis users high. A lack of access to THC testing equipment and an inability to stop someone for “probable cause” simply based on odor, since illegal marijuana and legal hemp when smoked smell a lot alike, are seen as major constraints.
This week, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Lawrence Keefe, announced his office will now step in to take over state attorneys’ offices marijuana caseloads. The Northern District includes 23 counties in northern Florida, including the state capital, Tallahassee. Shortly after the move was reported by Florida media outlets, on August 20, Keefe’s office clarified that their crime-fighting will focus on the intersection of marijuana and violent crime, and pot dealers who engage in large-scale sales, not small-time marijuana cases.
Law enforcement agencies in Florida aren’t the only ones struggling with how to best dispatch resources in the face of changing laws related to cannabis. State and county attorneys in several jurisdictions have in recent months hit the pause button on cannabis prosecutions in light to federal and state cannabis laws, including jurisdictions in Georgia and Texas, and the state of New Jersey.