The state of Florida on the 1st of July passed a bill, which made hemp and its associated products legal within the state. Hemp is a part of the cannabis plant, which is used in the production of paper and rope, cannabidiol, and other related oils, which are used in the production of pharmaceutical and food-related products.
Hemp and its associated products have been found to have no psychoactive effects unlike other parts of the cannabis plant. Psychoactive effects reported for cannabis include hallucination and irregular heart rhythms among others.
This new law has led to a change in the methods of marijuana-related law enforcement in every single county in Florida, Miami-Dade inclusive. The new law has led to a circulation of memoranda all over sheriff departments in Florida, instructing police officers to stop pulling people over and searching their vehicles simply because they have detected the smell of marijuana.
This instruction was circulated because of the fact that hemp smells very similar to cannabis, and is physically indistinguishable from the actual parts of the cannabis plants that possess psychoactive properties. The difference between the newly legalized hemp and the illegal cannabis can only be determined after specific scientific tests.
The memorandum received by the Miami-Dade County Sheriff’s Office states that hemp is no longer a controlled substance; hence it is now perfectly legal for citizens to have it in their possession. Since hemp feels, smells and looks like cannabis, and can even be smoked just like cannabis, police officers can no longer search a vehicle just because they have detected the smell of cannabis in the vehicle.
In line with this new legislation, police may only search a vehicle if an additional incriminating factor apart from just the smell of cannabis in the vehicle is present. Signs of impairment on the part of the occupant(s) of the car, information or intelligence previously received concerning criminal activity by the occupants of the car before the stop and search procedure, and an explicit admission by the individual to the possession of illegal substances are all additional factors, which may be combined with the smell of cannabis to warrant a police officer to search a vehicle in Florida now.
However, this new law is not going to significantly alter the status quo of police stop and search activities related to the smell of marijuana in vehicles in Florida. This is because vehicles were actually not being stopped exclusively because of the smell of marijuana anyway. Since 2015 in Florida, police officers have had the liberty to write civil tickets to road users who carried less that 20g of Cannabis.
Statistics have, however, shown that even after the legalization of medical marijuana, the Miami-Dade Police department has made more arrests of people carrying marijuana rather than write civil tickets against these individuals. In the same research study, it was shown that racial profiling might be an issue in the determination of who got tickets and who got arrested. In cases where a simple ticket could have sufficed, more white people were actually only issued tickets, while majority of people of color who got pulled over while in the possession of marijuana got arrested.