Across the nation, laws regarding marijuana policy have been changing drastically. In Florida, changes have been coming quickly over the last couple of years – first with high CBD medical cannabis, then several cities and counties decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and finally with the overwhelming passage of Amendment 2 during the November 2016 election. Now that we finally seem to have the attention of lawmakers on the issue, we’re seeing a number of different marijuana-related bills being filed – most recently, two that aim to decriminalize marijuana possession statewide.
Currently, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor criminal offense that comes with the potential for up to a year in jail, or a fine of up to $1,000. Together, Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and Senator Jeff Clemens drafted a bill that they each introduced – resulting in House Bill 1403 and Senate Bill 1662 – that, if passed, would make possession of an ounce or less of cannabis a non-criminal civil violation (similar to a parking ticket). Tickets would include a fine of up to $100 or 15 hours of community service, and minors would have the option of 15 hours community service or a drug awareness class.
“These draconian marijuana possession laws have wasted taxpayer dollars, unnecessarily filled up our state prison system, and distracted law enforcement from focusing on apprehending dangerous criminals,” Smith says in a statement. “We should be creating opportunities for people to succeed – not creating obstacles and ruining lives over minor infractions or youthful indiscretions. It is past time for the legislature to end the unjust incarceration of Floridians for non-violent drug offenses. If Amendment 2 was any indication, public opinion on marijuana has changed drastically over the years. Tallahassee politicians must catch up with where a majority of Floridians already are.”
Many counties and cities – including Miami-Dade, Orlando, Tampa, Key West, and Broward County – have all passed local legislation that gives law enforcement the option of issuing a citation rather than making an arrest. But if either of these bills were to pass and be signed into law, then the option to make an arrest would no longer be on the table.
Out of the roughly 40,000 people arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses in Florida, about 90% of those were simple cannabis possession charges. Imagine how many less people will be in jail by changing one outdated law. Hopefully, the majority of the state legislature will see it that way as well, and Florida can join a number of other states who have moved away from criminal charges for those with small amounts of cannabis.