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As many residents of Fort Meyers probably know, the recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in this state. However, a new law that has legalized the possession and use of hemp products is making marijuana crimes tougher to prosecute. Some prosecutors have even declined to take on new possession of marijuana cases. Legalized hemp presents a problem because, like marijuana, it is a product of a plant called cannabis, although hemp is a different species than the marijuana plant.

A raw hemp plant smells the same as a marijuana plant and will even test positive as cannabis when officers conduct field testing. The police reportedly do not have a clear means of distinguishing between legal hemp and marijuana, at least to the point of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Moreover, because of this new law, an officer can no longer rely solely on the strong smell of marijuana as their grounds for searching a person’s car. Because the smell could actually be coming from legalized hemp, the odor alone can no longer be a reliable way of establishing probable cause for a search.

While at least one major metropolitan area in Florida has placed a moratorium on new possession of marijuana cases, others have announced that prosecutions will continue while law enforcement officers work on solving this quandary. However, many cities and counties in this state are already taking other steps to loosen their approach to enforcing marijuana laws.

As this new law continues to have an impact on police and prosecutors in this state, those charged with marijuana-related offenses should remain aware that defenses and other alternatives may be available to them.