Local Police Struggling to Make Minor Marijuana Arrests

Companies are ahead of the game but local police departments are behind when it comes to telling the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Extracts from hemp plants are used in all types of CBD products - from oils to gummies and coffee.

People take CBD for its reported health benefits and its popularity has been growing in recent years.

"It's huge right now and it's only going to get bigger and bigger," said Raj Damiani, a spokesperson from a CBD company showcasing products at the CBD expo in Miami this summer.

"You guys are like, ahead of the game," Danny Prosser, a representative from another CBD company, told us referring to the industry in Florida.

Companies are ahead of the game but local police departments are behind when it comes to telling the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Hemp looks and smells like marijuana but it has very little THC, which it is the chemical that makes people high.

A state law passed this summer made it legal to buy and sell hemp-based CBD in Florida.

But the test kits police have been using for years to make arrests can't tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Lauderhill Police Chief Constance Stanley says the hemp law is making it more difficult to arrest people for marijuana, which she says her officers run into everyday while on patrol in the city.

"It's going to be more challenging, let's just put it that way," said Stanley, who also serves as the president of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association.

Earlier this year, BSO issued a legal bulletin that stated: "All current THC test kits must be disposed of and replaced with the new test kits."

The new kits turn different colors depending on whether there's more CBD or marijuana in the products.

Stanley says her department threw out the old test kits and are testing out the new ones for officers to use on the street.

"You definitely don't want to put anyone who is innocent in jail but we also definitely want to remove those off the street who are violating the laws," Stanley said.

But the drug tests require additional lab testing to confirm the results after an arrest is made in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which means additional expenses for law enforcement agencies.

Miami Beach, which also bought new test kits, says they have not been able to use the new kits because prosecutors have put a hold on certain marijuana cases.

In a memo, sent out earlier this summer, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said they "will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases," adding her office will need "a laboratory test result that indicates that, in fact, the substance is illegal cannabis, as opposed to hemp - before filing formal charges in a case."

The memo states that every marijuana case now requires experts to testify in court.

The expenses can add up to at least $150 a case.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber calls it "unacceptable."

"We're fixing something that we think was an unintended glitch of the state legislature," Gelber said.

The mayor says the city's officers haven't been able to make arrests in minor marijuana cases since the prosecutors are not prosecuting.

But he says that could soon change.

"What we want to do is essentially fix this glitch that essentially treats pot smoking and hemp smoking the same as an open container law," Gelber said.

Gelber is sponsoring a new ordinance that's expected to pass this month, which gives officers the right to arrest and prosecute anyone for smoking either pot or hemp in public in Miami Beach.

"We're treating pot just like we do liquor. We're saying put it out, pour it out and if you don't listen to us, there's other repercussions," the mayor said.

Experts recommend when buying a CBD product to check if the company does testing and ask for current test results to make sure the product contains less than 0.3% THC and you are following state law.

NBC 6 Investigators found people charged with minor marijuana crimes went down in Miami-Dade and Broward before the new law went into effect.

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