Defending and Resolving Marijuana Possession Cases in Hillsborough County
The political climate is changing with regard to marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in Florida, and so is industrial hemp. The industrial hemp law, which took effect in July 2019, has a significant effect on marijuana criminal cases, as explained below.
Despite these changing winds, Florida arguably has the harshest marijuana possession law in the country. Simple possession of under 20 grams is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. That’s a pretty stiff penalty for a single joint. Some cities have suspended or limited marijuana enforcement activities. But these are executive orders which could be rescinded tomorrow and cannot be relied on.
Although the law remains harsh, the changing climate gives Tampa criminal defense attorneys more options in these cases. These options usually rely on some traditional marijuana defenses, as well as a new one, courtesy of the aforementioned Senate Bill 1020.
Legal Definition of Marijuana
When lawmakers legalized hemp, they partially included marijuana. According to SB 1020, “hemp” is any marijuana product which contains less than 0.3 percent THC. That seems straightforward. But most law enforcement entities, including most Florida Highway Patrol divisions, do not possess testing equipment which can distinguish marijuana from hemp based on THC level.
The state has the burden of proof to show that the substance the defendant possessed was illegal. Until the Legislature amends SB 1020 or buys the necessary equipment, it’s impossible to make this showing beyond a reasonable doubt.
Texas lawmakers recently passed a similar law with a similar 0.3 percent threshold. Shortly thereafter, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent a memo to troopers instructing them to “cite and release” in misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.
Definition of Possession
Simple possession cases account for about 80 percent of the criminal drug matters in Hillsborough County. Police officers mistakenly believe that the cases are easy to prove in court. They are not. Legally, possession and proximity are not synonymous. Prosecutors must also establish:
- Knowledge and
These two additional elements are very difficult to establish in vehicle possession matters. Assume Jake is in the back seat when an officer pulls over Samir for speeding. After officers sell marijuana, Samir gives them permission to search the car. They find marijuana in the glove compartment. Then, they arrest everyone in the car, including Jake, for marijuana possession.
But Jake probably did not legally possess the marijuana. It’s impossible to prove knowledge, unless Jake saw Samir put the drugs in the glove compartment or Samir told him “there is marijuana in the glove compartment.” Additionally, it’s very difficult for a person in the back seat to control something in the front seat. That’s especially true if the glove compartment was locked.
Resolving Drug Possession Matters
Since marijuana possession is almost always a nonviolent offense, pretrial diversion is usually available, especially if the defendant had no criminal record. If the defendant completes some program requirements, such as attending a self-improvement class, prosecutors dismiss the case before trial.
Deferred adjudication may be an option as well, even if the defendant has a criminal record. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge dismisses the case.
Connect with Experienced Lawyers
A new law gives marijuana possession defendants additional legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa drug crimes attorney, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Hillsborough County and nearby jurisdictions.