As Florida law evolves relating to marijuana, THC products, and hemp, so must law enforcement. According to a new joint memo released by State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, there will be changes to how these cases will be handled.
It appears that Senate Bill 1020, which authorized Florida’s hemp cultivation program as of July 1, 2019, prompted the State Attorney and Sheriff to impose some formal regulations about what cases can be subject to arrest or disregarded. This memo was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times in the story linked here. The memo solely applies to Pinellas County’s 820 deputies, but it was reported that St. Petersburg PD and Clearwater PD have issued similar policies as it relates to marijuana plant material.
The memo states that Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies shall not make arrests for creams and oils unless the substance is in large amounts. Oil is usually ingested through vape pens and have been the most common type of THC case for the last few years. For cannabis-infused or THC infused food products such as gummies, cookies or candies, no arrests were to be made. This is actually not a new development because those products rarely, if ever, result in charges. As for plant material, the memo gives deputies more discretion to arrest. Deputies must cite factors other than the smell or appearance of the plant material. These additional factors include the behavior of the person, how it is packaged and the person’s criminal record. The rationale behind this change as it relates to plant material is direct as a result of the new legal hemp rules. Hemp contains CBD, but also THC in low quantities. Hemp and marijuana also look and smell the same. The presence of THC in hemp is also legal, so presumptive field testing for THC is useless. In order to prevent deputies from arresting people who possess legal hemp, the memo was necessary. Obviously, from a criminal defense perspective, people will be wrongfully arrested even with this memo because only a lab test can truly determine if the product is legal hemp or illegal marijuana. What is one of the most interesting revelations is the lab can’t even test for edibles!
Needless to say, changes to how law enforcement treats marijuana, oils, and edibles was needed. However, there is still a long way to go in Pinellas County to catch up with the rest of the state and country. Ever since other states have legalized marijuana, these products have been flooding Florida. Floridians trying to make money have been driving or flying to states like Colorado or California, legally purchasing large quantities of marijuana, oils, and edibles and reselling them here. Many people in Florida have also been confused about what is legal or not since medical marijuana was legalized. As a result, with all of these vape pens being shared, people have been getting arrested for felonies left and right. Almost all of the defendants are young people who either didn’t know the law or definitely did not know that they were committing. So, for the past few years, Pinellas County has been enforcing the law with zero tolerance. This equates to many of our young people having felony arrest records that can never be taken off the internet for possessing a drop of oil in a vape pen! This policy and the treatment of medical marijuana were long overdue for a change. I am curious to see what the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office does to all of the cases that have already been prosecuted, or on probation or in pre-trial intervention (PTI). I assume that nothing will happen to those cases to bring them in-line with the new policy.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or your child has been charged with possession of marijuana or possession of a controlled substance for the THC oil in Pinellas County, you should immediately speak to a criminal defense attorney. At St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I specialize in representing first-time offenders who have been arrested or charged with marijuana or THC product crimes. There are many defenses that can be explored on each case. Even when there isn’t a legal defense, there are several ways that you can “earn” leniency. Examples of ways that my clients have successfully avoided felony charges are to enroll in counseling, get clean and take negative drug screens, do voluntary community service, and get a medical marijuana card.
My office is located in St. Petersburg and I handle both felony and misdemeanor cases in Pinellas County. Because my practice is solely devoted to Pinellas County, I can focus on knowing the prosecutors and judges and their preferences. If you have any questions about a criminal charge or investigation in Pinellas County, please contact me.