The tell-tale smell of cannabis smoke has long been law enforcement’s best excuse for questioning and detaining people over suspected cannabis possession. And police often use “marijuana odor” as a pretense for stop-and-frisks and searches, whether they actually detected a smell or not. But in Florida, the mere odor of cannabis will no longer be enough cause to detain and search people suspected of consuming or possessing weed. Not because Florida police departments are relaxing their enforcement of marijuana laws. But instead, because Florida has legalized hemp, and officers don’t have the training or the technology to distinguish cannabis from its non-psychoactive cousin.
Florida’s New Legal Hemp Law Is Changing How Police Enforce Marijuana Laws
After the U.S. federal government legalized hemp late last year, states have been moving to revise their own marijuana laws to carve out space for legal hemp. Under the blanket prohibition of cannabis, many state laws didn’t make a distinction between hemp—now defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC—and the forms of cannabis people consume for recreational and health reasons.
But in light of the lifting of the federal ban on hemp and hemp products, which range from clothing, food and textiles to cannabidiol (CBD) products, states are bringing their own rules in line with the new federal law.
And in Florida, the legalization of hemp is causing an interesting knockdown effect: it’s changing the way police enforce laws against marijuana. So when Florida’s legal hemp law went into effect July 1, 2019, removing hemp and hemp products from the state’s list of controlled substances and therefore making it legal to possess, Florida police departments began instructing officers that the smell of cannabis alone could no longer be just cause for detaining a person or conducting a search.