You've probably eaten the seeds of the Papaver somniferum plant in muffins or breads, and you've probably seen the plant in botanical gardens or its dried heads at flower shops. But this colorful flower is actually regulated federally and in Florida as a schedule II drug, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency--a classification shared by other regulated drugs with the potential for abuse, like cocaine.
The opium poppy is primarily harvested in dry, warm climates--specifically a 4,500-mile stretch running through Turkey, Pakistan and Laos, according to PBS.org's Frontline. It's easy to grow and is present in most states, including Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The poppy is sought after by drug traffickers, according to Frontline, because inside its seed pod is a coveted sap. As this sap hardens, it becomes a brownish gum that farmers collect and then mix with lime and water to create a morphine that is later transformed into a paste to be smoked, or this resulting substance can be processed into heroin.
According to Brian Toundas, a Gainseville, Florida-based attorney, any part of the Papaver somniferum poppy is a controlled substance. This includes any raw opium, extracts or fluids.
The reason this plant is regulated, according to Toundas, who cited 2009 Florida statutes, is it's a schedule II substance--which means there is a high chance the drug will be abused. A schedule II drug is different from a schedule I substance because with the former there is restricted medical use.
The severity of your punishment depends on how much of the opium poppy and its derivatives are found "on your person." If you're found to be in possession of more than 4 grams but less than 14 grams of opium derivatives, you'll face at least a three-year sentence. For those in possession of at least 28 grams (but no more than 30 kilograms) you'll face a 25-year prison term; more than 30 kilograms represents a first degree felony which carries a life term, according to Mark Anthony Gager, a West Melbourne-based attorney.
According to Erowid--a membership organization dedicated to psychoactive plants--the misconception exists that there are legal distinctions between opium seeds used in foods and opium parts used in flower arrangements versus extracts used to make street drugs. It does note that these laws are rarely enforced for those growing or selling ornamental or edible poppy pieces, but even opium used in tea, it states, can be made easily from poppies available at flower shops.
Since 2000 reporting and writing has taken Michelle Leach to Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, D.C., Chicago, London and Sydney, Australia. Her stories have appeared in various media outlets including NBC's "The Today Show," Reuters, Chicagoland dailies and network affiliates across the United States. Leach has a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in journalism/politics from Lake Forest College.