Now that smoking hemp is legal across Florida, it's causing problems for local governments who want to prohibit smoking illegal marijuana.
The substances are similar enough in chemistry and smell that recently the Miami-Dade County state attorney's office said it will not prosecute minor pot possession cases. In Broward County, the state attorney has a new three gram minimum before his office will prosecute.
So lawmakers in Miami Beach are working on their own solution to stop smoking in the streets and on the beach.
City commissioners approved an ordinance on its first vote that would have people arrested for smoking hemp or pot in some public spaces. The ordinance still needs to pass a second vote in the city commission chambers next month before it can move forward.
If it does, violators could face a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time.
WLRN reached out to Miami Beach police to ask if there have been any arrests for smoking in the city's streets. The police department responded in an email, saying "there have been no arrests or seizures of hemp."
WLRN’s Caitie Switalski discussed the reasons for the ordinance and its potential implications with the local lawmaker who proposed it - Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber - on the South Florida Roundup. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation.
WLRN: Recently, the Miami-Dade County and Broward County state attorneys have changed how they're prosecuting marijuana cases. What options do local governments have to enforce illegal pot use?
GELBER: Well, the problem is that when the state legislature legalized hemp, they inadvertently created a problem - in that, because hemp when it's smoked, and marijuana when it's smoked, it smells the same. And because the THC levels are close, you can't arrest somebody now - according to both those state attorneys and other state attorneys - because they don't know whether they're smoking hemp or they're smoking marijuana. So the state attorney in Dade County actually announced that they would not be prosecuting minor pot offenses. So as of right now, if you're smoking and you're in a public right-of-way, which is where you can't even drink liquor, our police will not arrest you. Which is a problem, because they know that they won't be prosecuted. So our city commission is about to address that.
You had a letter to the editor in The Miami Herald this week where you compared the situation to consuming alcohol in public spaces. Can you explain that a little bit -how this is akin to an open container law?
I mean, our open container laws say you can't drink liquor on sidewalks, in certain places that are just open. We have open container laws in the state, and we have them in our in our city by ordinance. So what I propose to do is simply take the pot and hemp laws prohibition and just treat it exactly like open container laws. I don't think we're looking to do more enforcement than has previously been done. We're simply trying not to lose our ability to enforce it where it should obviously be enforced.
For instance, next to a school, in a public park, on the sidewalk. People shouldn't be smoking pot next to an elementary school, obviously. But the fact that the state attorney and the police can't prosecute and arrest you for that right now because of the testing makes it a problem. So we're simply going to say 'let's just treat pot and hemp just like liquor.' It's it's not an increase in enforcement. It's simply a substitution of a new type of enforcement for a new ordinance locally that had previously been enforced by the county prosecutor with police officers.