Hemp legalization complicates narcotics enforcement

The legalization of hemp in Florida back in July has complicated the enforcement of drug laws.

"Marijuana used to be so distinctive by odor and appearance, it was clear as to what it was. If you saw it or smelled it, it immediately gave you probable cause," explained Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. 'But as the laws have changed, that no longer applies."

Sheriff Gualtieri cautioned his deputies Thursday, legal hemp and illegal marijuana are difficult to tell apart. Filed tests cannot tell whether THC is present, and in what quantity. 

In a 3-page memo, Gualtieri and State Attorney Bernie McCabe advised deputies and investigators to avoid arrests for oils and creams unless they're found in large amounts. They said arrests for edible cannabis products are not suggested, either.

As for plant materials, deputies must determine if the product is marijuana, as opposed to hemp, and if it was obtained illegally, before making an arrest.

"Do we have probable cause for an arrest? If we do then we make the arrest if we don't then we can send it to the lab and they will tell us if this is above or below the threshold and we'd follow up on it," said Sheriff Gualtieri. 

At Asylum Smoke and Stuff on Ulmerton Road, the new guidelines come with relief. 

"We always tell everybody to keep the packages, the receipts and anything like that on them. That way they have the proof," said manager Krystal Galloway. 

Their CBD products attract customers seeking relief, but that's often overshadowed by legal concerns. 

"Some of them, especially our elderly customers, get worried that something will happen," said Galloway.