Feds to Take Over Marijuana Prosecutions That the State Won’t
Florida’s recent legalization of hemp has prompted state attorneys to delay and halt some marijuana cases. But federal prosecutors say they’ll pursue the cases the state won’t.
In Florida, state attorneys have been delaying and even halting some marijuana cases. But on Monday, federal prosecutors announced that they would be taking over the state’s caseload. That means the feds will now pursue the cases Florida state attorneys have slowed or dropped. The handoff comes amid a transition moment in Florida’s policies regarding marijuana, medical cannabis and hemp. And it could establish legal precedents that allow the federal government to step in when states decide there’s no point in prosecuting certain marijuana convictions.
According to one state attorney, Florida’s Northern District alone handles more than 1,000 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases a year. And instead of reducing prosecutions as Florida moves to decriminalize cannabis and legalize hemp, the feds will take the reigns.
Legal Hemp Slows Marijuana Prosecutions in Florida
On July 1, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1020 into law. SB 1020 effectively legalizes hemp in the state of Florida, establishing a hemp regulatory program and directing the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to draft a plan that follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products.
Florida’s legalization of hemp, however, created some complications for state attorneys. The problem, according to state attorney Jack Campbell, is that Florida law enforcement agencies don’t really have the ability to tell the difference between hemp and cannabis.
Under its legal definition, hemp is simply any cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent THC. But police drug detection kits aren’t calibrated to measure that threshold. Instead, they’re designed to detect even the smallest traces of THC, in order to produce evidence for prosecutors that a person possessed, used or sold weed.
But now that hemp is legal, there are all kinds of totally lawful products and plants out there that would trigger a positive on a police THC test. The problem is that this test is essentially meaningless, since it can’t distinguish between legal and illegal products containing THC.
“The Legislature is still very clear that marijuana is illegal in this state,” Campbell said. “They’re also very clear that hemp is legal in this state. So we just need to be able to differentiate.”
But they can’t differentiate, at least not at the moment, without relying on expensive lab tests. In other words, by pouring more time and resources into pursuing minor possession crimes. So hemp legalization, combined with Florida cities moving to decriminalize and reduce penalties for marijuana possession, prompted state’s attorneys to delay and even drop some of their misdemeanor possession cases.
Suspects Will Likely Face Harsher Penalties in Federal Court
The feds, however, aren’t going to let Floridians off that easy. U.S. Attorney of Florida’s Northern District Lawrence Keefe, whose office oversees 25 Florida counties, is taking over where the state was less willing to go. In Keefe’s view, the DEA makes the federal criminal legal system better equipped to tell the difference between illegal cannabis and legal hemp. And that means federal prosecutors will be able to go after those cases that hemp legalization had delayed.
The move has rankled some defense lawyers who are concerned people charged with marijuana crimes will face harsher penalties in federal court. For now, it’s not exactly clear what level of marijuana offenses Keefe plans to prosecute.
But on Monday, Keefe’s his office released a statement that federal prosecutors would prioritize violent criminals and larger-scale marijuana traffickers. Keefe also said his office won’t go after Florida’s growing medical cannabis industry. “This office has no intent to discourage or deter the evolution of the Northern District of Florida’s legal marijuana industry, which is rapidly changing at the state level,” the statement reads. Instead, Keefe said federal prosecutors will focus on cases involving criminal gun violence, dangerous drug trafficking, human trafficking and domestic terrorism.
“The fact remains,” the statement continues, “that marijuana is currently illegal under federal law.” But Keefe’s office won’t devote resources to federally prosecuting activities that Florida has decided are legal, such as possessing medical marijuana with a license.
Drury, ByAdam. “Feds to Take Over Marijuana Prosecutions That the State Won’t.” Green Rush Daily, 21 Aug. 2019, greenrushdaily.com/news/feds-to-take-over-marijuana-prosecutions-that-the-state-wont/.
Florida Cops Kill Man After Smelling Weed and Won’t Release Videos
Pensacola Police won’t release the dashboard and body cam footage that would support their version of the police killing of Tymar Crawford in July.
On July 5th, a Pensacola, Florida police officer—the department won’t release the officer’s name—thought he smelled weed coming from a car. In some parts of Florida, where possessing up to 20 grams of cannabis is decriminalized, that officer might have just continued on his way. But this Pensacola cop made a traffic stop. The man behind the wheel was Tymar Crawford, a father of four. That traffic stop ended up costing Crawford his life. Police shot Crawford five times in front of his family, killing him.
At the time, Crawford’s shooting sparked protests and marches. Local residents gathered outside the Pensacola Police Department demanding justice for Crawford and the firing of the officer that killed him. Now, a layer representing Crawford’s family is fighting for the release of the dashboard and body camera footage of the killing. But Pensacola police are fighting to keep the video out of the public eye.
Family of Man Killed After Police Smelled Weed Demand Video of the Shooting
Pensacola police say they shot Tymar Crawford to death because he took an officer’s gun during a scuffle. That’s all it would take for the justice system to justify Crawford’s killing. But the Pensacola Police Department won’t release any dashboard or body camera footage from the fatal July 5th incident. Footage that would support their version of events.
But so far, police haven’t offered any evidence to support any part of their version of what happened. They just allege they smelled weed coming from Crawford’s car, that Crawford “fled at low-speed” then struggled with the cops trying arrest him outside of his family’s home. During that struggle, the police allege that Crawford tried to disarm one of the officers by grabbing his gun. That’s when officers shot him five times.
The gunshots and the aftermath were all caught on cell phone videos taken by witnesses. But cars and other objects blocked the bystanders’ view from the alleged “scuffle” that lead to Crawford’s killing. Those same witnesses, five of them, in fact, have challenged the officers’ version of events. They say police shot Crawford for no reason.
Joe Zarzaur, the attorney representing Crawford’s family, is demanding Pensacola police release the police footage of the incident. Zarzaur says the videos are part of officers’ routine duties and should be part of the public record. But the department says the videos are part of an ongoing investigation and are classified.
Pot Politics in Pensacola
Last November, Pensacola held a mayoral election. At least a couple candidates spoke openly about local changes to marijuana laws, but only one made decriminalization part of his platform. Drew Buchanan, a Pensacola businessman, proposed making Pensacola follow the more than a dozen other Florida municipalities that had decriminalized simple possession. On the campaign trail, Buchanan’s proposal “shocked” then-Comissioner Grover Robinson, who ultimately won the bid for mayor.
Another 2018 candidate for mayor also issued a prophetic response to Buchanan’s decriminalization proposal. While saying that it wasn’t “a campaign fight of mine,” candidate Lawrence Powell admitted that “granted, it does affect people.”
“If you get pulled over and in possession of, depending on how much and what your historical criminal record may look like, it can be a game changer — a life changer,” Powell said.
In Tymar Crawford’s case, it was a life ender.
Drury, ByAdam. “Florida Cops Kill Man After Smelling Weed and Won’t Release Videos.” Green Rush Daily, 23 Sept. 2019, greenrushdaily.com/news/florida-cops-kill-man-after-smelling-weed-and-wont-release-videos/.
Pennsylvania is Looking for More Cannabis Researchers
Pennsylvania is now accepting more medical marijuana research applications.
The state of Pennsylvania opened another round of applications for cannabis companies that want to get involved with the research side of things. Specifically, companies can now apply to partner with research institutions in the state.
Companies that are approved by the state and that enter partnerships with research centers will provide raw data about medical marijuana. From there, that data will be analyzed by researchers.
Pennsylvania Now Accepting Applications from Cannabis Companies
This is the second time Pennsylvania has accepted applications from cannabis companies interested in participating in the state’s medical marijuana research initiatives.
Last year, the state began taking applications from cannabis cultivators. At the time, the idea was to find companies that could partner with state-approved marijuana research institutions.
But, as reported by local news source The Philadelphia Inquirer, that first round of applications did not produce any concrete results. More specifically, state officials did not grant any licenses. Officials ended up rejecting all applicants, citing a number of different technicalities.
As a result, the state is now opening up its second round of applications. In this round, cannabis companies can apply to become a licensed provider for state-approved research facilities.
Companies that win licenses will be allowed to grow cannabis. Additionally, the license will enable them to open six retail dispensaries.
In order to apply, applicants must already have a pre-existing arrangement with one of Pennsylvania’s state-approved research institutions. Companies interested in applying to the program have until April 11 to submit all materials.
Medical Marijuana Research in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana research program essentially involves two main parts. First, there are the state-approved research institutions.
These are essentially colleges and universities in the state that are now approved to conduct certain types of medical marijuana research.
To date, the state has approved eight schools to become “Academic Clinical Research Centers.” The schools licensed to participate are:
- Drexel University College of Medicine, in Philadelphia
- Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, in Philadelphia
- Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia
- Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Philadelphia
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, in Philadelphia
- Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Erie
- Penn State College of Medicine, in Hershey
- University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in Pittsburgh
Interestingly, these schools are not authorized to handle any actual cannabis or cannabis products. And that’s where cannabis companies come into the equation.
Licensed cannabis companies, which will be called Clinical Registrants, make up the second key part of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana research program.
These companies will each be partnered with one of the eight schools. And the companies will handle all medical marijuana. Additionally, they will deal directly with medical marijuana patients.
These companies will gather a broad range of data regarding medical marijuana and medical marijuana patients. They will then send all data to their partner research center. From there, the research institution will use the data as the basis for a number of studies.
While this approach could generate a lot of much needed data about medical marijuana, there are some concerns over the quality of research.
For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer voiced some potential problems: “patients will be self reporting data, making any research built on it unlikely to be considered by typical peer-reviewed scientific journals.”
Lindsey, ByNick. “Pennsylvania Is Looking for More Cannabis Researchers.” Green Rush Daily, 8 Mar. 2019, greenrushdaily.com/science/pennsylvania-is-looking-for-more-cannabis-researchers/.