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Broward Prosecutors Change Way Marijuana Cases To Be Prosecuted In Wake Of Hemp Legalization

BROWARD COUNTY (CBSMiami) -- Broward County prosecutors are the next to announce a change in the way marijuana possession cases are prosecuted in the wake of the legalization of hemp in Florida.

A memo went out Monday to all law enforcement agencies and police chiefs in Broward County.

In it, the State Attorney's Office says they are instituting a threshold for misdemeanor marijuana cases and they are also recommending that these misdemeanor marijuana cases be handled by a diversion program.

In the memo, the agency says, "We are requiring a 3 gram minimum net weight for the prosecution of all misdemeanor cannabis cases."

Prosecutors are also asking for law enforcement to "refer juvenile or adult misdemeanor amount cases to a local diversion program, Civil Citation, or Promise Program."

The change comes in response to the state's recent legalization of hemp which looks and smells like marijuana and there is no way to tell them apart based on sight or smell. Prosecutors said they need at least 3 grams because as much as 2 grams will be used during testing of the drug.

"I think that's good news for everybody in Broward County and in the state of Florida," said defense attorney and former Broward County prosecutor Ken Padowitz.

Padowitz believes the change will put the focus for law enforcement where it belongs — on serious crime.

"I think that most people — most reasonable people — want law enforcement devoted and focused on really crime and real criminals. I think most people in this day and age are at the point where that's where we want our resources spent. We don't want people arrested on very small amounts of marijuana," said Padowitz.

Padowitz believes the new rules carry another significant change. He says it will prevent police officers from searching a person's car without a warrant based solely on an officer smelling marijuana.

"With the change in law, police officers now can't just say that they smell marijuana to search a vehicle," Padowitz said. "There has to be something in addition to just the smell or odor of marijuana."

Prosecutors in Miami-Dade did something similar earlier in the month, saying that they will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases of 20 grams or less.

"This is not legalizing in Miami Dade county or the State of Florida at all," said Howard Rosen, of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. "This is just an impediment for us to be able to prove the cases."

Several legal experts CBS4 News spoke with want to see another change with this relaxing of the law.

They say over the years these misdemeanor marijuana cases have had a big impact on people arrested — preventing them from getting a job, getting into college or renting an apartment. A couple of legal experts say they would like to see state legislators pass a law removing these cases from people's records.

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