The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office says it will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases "barring exceptional circumstances," citing the costs to test the drug after the passage of Florida's new hemp law.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced the new policy in a memo sent earlier this week to law enforcement agencies in the county.
According to the memo, the so-called "hemp bill," which went into effect July 1 and legalizes the possession and use of hemp, is creating challenges for law enforcement officers in trying to tell the difference between hemp and cannabis.
"Because hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, they look, smell, and feel the same. There is no way to visually or microscopically distinguish one from the other," the memo reads. "Similarly, since hemp can be – and is - also smoked, there is no olfactory way to distinguish hemp from marijuana."
Fernandez Rundle said that because of the bill, prosecutors now need an expert to testify that a substance is marijuana to prove their cases, and police must have lab tests done to prove a substance is marijuana which could come at considerable expense.
"Up until now, there was no laboratory expense involved in marijuana prosecution cases, as any necessary testimony was from the Miami-Dade Police Department Forensic Services Bureau Crime Laboratory personnel," the memo reads. "Since every marijuana case will now require an expert, and necessitate a significant expenditure by the State of Florida, barring exceptional circumstances on a particular case, we will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases."
Fernandez Rundle said the Miami-Dade Police Crime Lab doesn't have the ability to conduct the marijuana analysis, but are in the process of developing the methodology.
"In the meantime, if there are any DEA certified private labs that can perform such testing in significant cases, and the police departments are willing to pay for such testing, then the prosecution of these cases could move forward," Fernandez Rundle said in a statement Friday. "Once the MDPD lab can again conduct such testing themselves, then this all becomes moot. This is just a stumbling block, and not a death knell to the prosecution of marijuana cases."