Things That Matter

A New Florida Law And Lack Of Testing Facilities In The State Means Miami-Dade County Won’t Be Prosecuting Misdemeanor Pot Cases

There is good news out there for marijuana users in Florida as prosecutors in Miami-Dade county announced they will no longer prosecute minor marijuana cases. The news comes as a result of new state law, the so-called “hemp bill,” which went into effect July 1, that has legalized hemp but has also caused much more costly problems. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office released a memo last week saying there is no police crime lab in South Florida that currently tests for a cannabis chemical that gets users high. This has now created a new challenge for law enforcement in trying to tell the difference between hemp and cannabis.

“Barring exceptional circumstances,” Miami prosecutors will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. When it comes to large amounts, enough for felony charges, police will now have to get lab tests to verify if it is real marijuana, not hemp. 

Credit: @fguzmanon7 / Twitter

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a memo that authorities can’t “visually or microscopically” tell the difference between marijuana from hemp, which only has very small amounts of THC chemicals that it’s counterpart does. Now, due to the new law in effect, laboratory testing must be done. 

“Because hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, they look, smell, and feel the same. There is no way to visually or microscopically distinguish one from the other,” the memo states. “Similarly, since hemp can be – and is – also smoked, there is no olfactory way to distinguish hemp from marijuana.”

Rundle says due to the “Hemp Bill,” state prosecutors now need an expert on hand to testify that a substance is marijuana to prove their cases in court. This also means lab tests will have to be conducted by authorities to verify a substance. However, those lab tests come at quite the price according to Rundle. 

“Up until now, there was no laboratory expense involved in marijuana prosecution cases, as any necessary testimony was from the Miami-Dade Police Department Forensic Services Bureau Crime Laboratory personnel,” the memo reads. “Since every marijuana case will now require an expert, and necessitate a significant expenditure by the State of Florida, barring exceptional circumstances on a particular case, we will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.”

The Miami-Dade Police Crime Lab currently doesn’t have the practice to perform a marijuana analysis. But according to Rundle, the department is in the process of developing the methodology to do so.

Credit: @repwilson / Twitter

While the Miami-Dade crime lab currently does not have the capability to test for THC, this is all set to change in the next three to six months. According to Rundle, the eased enforcement of marijuana is a temporary thing until the county lab can perform such tests on their own.

“In the meantime, if there are any DEA certified private labs that can perform such testing in significant cases, and the police departments are willing to pay for such testing, then the prosecution of these cases could move forward,” Rundle said in the memo. “Once the MDPD lab can again conduct such testing themselves, then this all becomes moot. This is just a stumbling block and not a death knell to the prosecution of marijuana cases.”

The decision for the state to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases highlights the growing obstacles for law enforcement in Florida and across the country in states where recreational marijuana is still considered illegal, but hemp is now allowed.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, prosecutors have been coming across this problem since the bill went into effect in July. They say the added expense of sending marijuana to labs outside of the state and getting expert witnesses to testify in court makes those options “prohibitive in all except the most serious of cases.”

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says the state’s new regulations could be a dangerous move when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws as a whole. “This agency and most agencies around Florida will not be making marijuana arrests,” Snyder told West Palm Beach TV station WPTV. “Until we have a lab that can test, law enforcement efforts around marijuana are dead in the water.”

Nonetheless, as the attitude of marijuana as a whole has loosened in recent years, the enforcement of misdemeanor marijuana cases in Miami were not being prosecuted as aggressively as in the past. This might be a continuing trend in counties an states where hemp is legal but marijuana is not. 

READ: A Married Florida Cop Is Suing A Dating Website For Allegedly Using His Picture In Advertisements Without His Permission

An Arizona Medical Marijuana Farm Turned The Sky Purple And People Were Left Wondering What Was Going On

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An Arizona Medical Marijuana Farm Turned The Sky Purple And People Were Left Wondering What Was Going On

Navajo County / Facebook

A Navajo County medical marijuana farm in Snowflake, Arizona filled the sky with a strange purple haze that illuminated the horizon. Local residents took photos of the electric violet fog that enveloped them on an early Friday morning last week. 

Copperstate Farms is the largest medical marijuana wholesaler in Arizona, according to CNN. The farm has 40 acres of greenhouses (totaling the size of 30 football fields). The greenhouses use red and blue lights at night to boost the plants’ growth. Anyone who paid attention during the color theory section of art class knows red and blue make purple, but the lights don’t look like this every day in Navajo County. 

So why was the sky filled with a purple haze?

❄ The snow wasn't the only gift the skies had in store for us this morning. 💜This photo taken from Snowflake, AZ early…

Posted by Navajo County on Friday, January 10, 2020

“The purple lights are always there but don’t usually light up the sky like this,” Cara Smith, who took the viral photo at 6:30 AM on her way to work, told CNN. “It had snowed that morning and was still very foggy and cloudy.”

While the lights can sometimes look a little purple from afar, the weather conditions magnified the violet hue. According to KTLA, water droplets from a particularly low fog reflected the growth lights which made the purple color spread across the dark sky. 

“The snow wasn’t the only gift the skies had in store for us this morning. This photo taken from Snowflake, AZ early this morning showcased purple glow for miles! Huge shout out to resident Cara Smith for sharing her photo.
The purple glow is a result of LED grow lights from nearby medical marijuana farm Copperstate Farms and the snow clouds overhead,” the official Navajo County Facebook page wrote. 

Copperstate Farms has been growing crops for three years with 70 cannabis strains in production and another 40 in development. 

With more states legalizing marijuana, a purple haze could be coming to you.

While Arizona legalized medical use in 2010, it has struggled to legalize it for recreational use. In fact, in 2016 a ballot initiative to legalize it recreationally failed with 48.7 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, in just four short years the state has a new initiative on the ballot that is facing little opposition. 

“With over $1.6 million in funding, the political action committee formed to push the ballot initiative is the best-funded PAC in the state, according to campaign finance filings. What is surprising is the seeming lack of any opposition in a state that, just four years ago, narrowly struck down a similar bill,” according to the Phoenix New Times.

In 2016, Arizona may have suffered from a 6.4 million anti-cannabis movement but there is little resistance this time. There have been changing attitudes around marijuana use with 33 states making it medically legal and 11 making it recreationally legal. 

Here are the states we can expect expanded access to marijuana use from in 2020.

According to Newsweek, over a dozen states are posturing towards ballot initiatives for recreational cannabis use in 2020. States like these include Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, South Dakota, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, and North Dakota and Rhode Island. 

States in the beginning process are working to garner local and public support, while others, further along, are figuring out implementation processes. For example, Minnesota Democrats are trying to establish the best practices before drafting the bill. 

“It just is manifestly unfair to say ‘Okay, well, now that we think [marijuana] is good and we’re going to make money, let’s make it a corporate, whites-dominated industry,'” Minnesota state house majority leader Ryan Winkler told Newsweek. “We may not be able to stop that, but we’re going to try.”

Marijuana legalization has largely become a criminal justice issue with Black and Brown people incarcerated at much higher rates for usage despite racial groups using cannabis at the same rates. 

Illinois may be the model to follow, after passing a bill to legalize recreational use, the state plans to expunge criminal records for related low-level offenses. It has allocated $30 million in special low-interest loans so that communities, largely of color, affected the most by the so-called War on Drugs can lead the way as cannabis entrepreneurs. 

Here’s What Is Going On With The LAPD Officer Who Filed A False Police Report

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Here’s What Is Going On With The LAPD Officer Who Filed A False Police Report

NYT / Twitter

At the beginning of 2019, Empire actor Jussie Smollett famously reported that he had been the victim of a hate crime. About three weeks later, Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report—it had been discovered that the attack was staged, and that Smollett himself had planned the whole thing. Although the charges against Smollett were dropped, he was all over headlines last year, earning a national reputation as a liar and ultimately being fired from his role on Empire.

In August of 2019, a similar situation arose within the Los Angeles Police Department, when a sheriff’s deputy falsely claimed that he was shot by a sniper outside the Lancaster police station. After days of searching for the alleged gunman, it became clear that Angel Reinosa had fabricated his story. He had not been shot, after all—instead, he had used a knife to create fake bullet wounds in his uniform, asserting that his bulletproof vest had saved his life.

“There were many things that didn’t add up,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener. No bullets had been recovered from the scene, and they had no leads on a suspect—they searched a nearby apartment building, assuming that the shooter was inside, but of course they found nothing.

But this didn’t exactly surprise investigators and colleagues, who were suspicious of Reinosa’s story from the very beginning. A number of sheriff’s officials told the LA Times that “his radio call about the incident was too calm even for a veteran, a hole in his shirt too big for the minor wound he claimed to have suffered.”

The LA Times also reported that by the end of the day that Reinosa made the report, the search for the suspected gunman had been halted. Homicide detectives, assisted by forensic experts, instead turned their attention to Reinosa. And by 9:30 PM, Reinosa’s involvement in the case was considered highly suspect. Not long after, he admitted to the police that he had fabricated the incident, though he didn’t reveal his motives for doing so.

In the case of Jussie Smollett, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a press conference that the motive for feigning the hate crime was fiscal in nature. He claimed that “Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career, because he was dissatisfied with his salary.” Folks have speculated that Reinosa’s situation was rather similar—it had to do with a certain dissatisfaction at work.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said that sheriff’s officials had divulged details about Reinosa’s difficulties with his first year in the field. Typically, the first year constitutes a probationary training period that all deputies must complete before becoming deputies, and Reinosa was struggling to keep up.

“He was not advancing through the training program at an adequate pace,” Parris said. “There had been a lot of attention on him.”

And just a few days ago, Reinosa was taken into police custody when he was served an arrest warrant during a traffic stop. He was arrested for insurance fraud and for filing a false police report, and he was transferred to Los Angeles County Jail. His bail was set at $40,000, and unlike Smollett, Reinosa was not able to immediately settle his case with a payment.

Authorities say that the charges of insurance fraud are related to the workers comp claims Reinosa made after the incident. If he is convicted of these charges, he could face up to five and a half years in county jail.

As soon as authorities discovered that the shooting had been a hoax, they called an 11 PM press conference to address the situation. In an interview, Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed the desire to ensure that Reinosa’s actions were met with what they deemed the appropriate legal response.

“We are all appalled and disappointed. We took the deputy at his word at first,” Villanueva said. “We intend to hold the individual responsible for breaking the law and most importantly for betraying the community.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by authorities in Smollett’s case, as well as Smollett’s fellow Empire cast members. Lee Daniels, the creator of Empire, referred to the “pain and anger and sadness and frustration” that he and his cast endured, adding that he and his team “really [didn’t] know how to deal with it.”

He also said that Empire “was made to bring America together” and to “talk about the atrocities that are happening right now in the streets”—a message that was in direct contrast with Smollett’s actions.

The Lancaster sheriff’s website expressed a similar sense of disappointment, yet also emphasized the importance of community in situations like these:

“We are saddened by the outcome of the investigation, but are so grateful to our community for their cooperation on Wednesday and your ongoing support everyday. The actions of one individual are not indicative of who Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Deputies are.”