As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville and North Florida area, we have seen an increase in cases involving the alleged sale of what the police call “synthetic marijuana.” Keep in mind that “synthetic marijuana” is a term completely made up by police to make it sound like this substance is illegal. The police can call any substance “synthetic marijuana” with the idea that people are smoking it so it must be illegal. However, in our society, the Florida legislature, in state cases, has to actually pass a law specifically making possession or sale of the specific substance illegal before a person can be legitimately convicted of a crime for possessing or selling it. That is true regardless of whatever nefarious name law enforcement wants to give it. Nothing is illegal just because the police think so or think it should be.
In a recent case just west of Jacksonville, Florida, a convenience store owner was selling a substance that was sold under various brand names that customers were smoking to get a buzz. The government decided they did not want the store to sell this substance, labeled it synthetic marijuana, and sent an undercover officer into the store to discuss buying the substance to smoke it. Later, the police came in with search warrants, seized all of the so-called synthetic marijuana and arrested the store owner on felony drug charges.
As the criminal defense attorney for the store owner, it was our position that the store owner did not commit any crime. Prior to selling the items, the store owner consulted with an expert who tested the substances and indicated that they were not illegal under Florida law. The expert was correct in that the substances were not illegal under Florida law at the time the store owner was selling them, although the Florida legislature was in the process of making the new substances illegal. As a result, regardless of the fact that it looked somewhat like marijuana, people bought it to smoke it and the police called it synthetic marijuana, since there was no Florida law at the time that specifically made the substances illegal, the criminal drug charges did not go forward.
We have seen several cases on this issue. Other prosecutors’ offices have taken a different approach and have tried to argue that selling this synthetic marijuana is illegal under different criminal drug statutes. Additionally, the Florida legislature is continually trying to play catchup by making these substances illegal after they learn about them.
If you are in the business of selling these substances the police refer to as synthetic marijuana, you have purchased these items or you have been arrested on a charge related to these items and want to know your rights, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.