With the new voter-approved medical marijuana law now being discussed so heavily in legislature, it is no surprise that other marijuana-related bills have found their way into discussions among Florida lawmakers. One in particular – Senate Bill 1662, which aims to decriminalize cannabis statewide – is finally getting a hearing in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice where it is subject to a lot of skepticism from lawmakers.
Over the last two years, multiple cities and counties have taken it upon themselves to decriminalize marijuana – including Miami-Dade county, Broward county, and the cities of Tampa and Orlando – it is only a matter of time before a patchwork of decriminalization bills is implemented throughout most of the state. The problem there ends up being that the mere difference between city or county lines could mean the difference between a fine and a criminal record.
One of the biggest reasons for decriminalization is to lessen the blow that getting caught with small amounts of cannabis can cause – including loss of employment and housing opportunities, among other life-altering issues that come with a criminal record. It also allows law enforcement and the court system the opportunity to focus on violent crimes and other issues that are far more important that cannabis possession.
“And it’s going to make sure that we’re saving taxpayers money in the long run because really, no one wants to send someone to jail for a small amount of marijuana,” said James.
SB1662 would make an ounce or less of cannabis, as well as 5 grams or less of concentrates, a ticketed offense with a fine of up to $100. That fine could also be traded for community service hours should they not be able to pay the full amount – which is much more reasonable in comparison to arrest, court hearings, thousands of dollars in fines and fees and possible jail time.
“There have been many many bills proposed, but it’s never had a hearing. So this is a major step forward to end prohibition,” said Melissa Villar with NORML Tallahassee.
The fact that this bill is even getting a hearing this time around is certainly encouragement – especially in a time when things are changing so rapidly around the country (and in other countries as well). People are finally starting to realize that jailing people for small amounts of cannabis is unrealistic and does nothing at all to help end the war on drugs – and that it is time to find a better policy.
For those states which are not ready to move towards a legalization system, decriminalization is at least a start. It frees up law enforcement and ends the needless prosecution of people who are nonviolent and whose only crime is possession of a banned plant. Hopefully this bill will see the support it needs to at least make it to the Senate floor for a full vote.