On Wednesday, two bills were filed by Florida lawmakers that would essentially decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The bill specifically addresses personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The two bills were filed by State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- Orlando, and State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D- Lake Worth.
Currently, Florida has strict laws surrounding the possession of marijuana. Even a small amount is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail or a fine of $1,000. With the new proposed legislation these offenses will be re-categorized as non-criminal civil violations instead of misdemeanor criminal offenses. The possession of small amounts of marijuana or drug paraphernalia would no longer be a criminal offense but one that can be rectified with a small fine or community service. The proposed law cites a fine of no more than $100 or 15 hours of community service in the event that the offender cannot pay the fine. If the offender is a minor they may be ordered to complete a drug program along with a certain amount of community service. Either way, the legislation aims to limit or eliminate the amount of people met with misdemeanor charges for a largely harmless crime.
Last year almost 40,000 Floridians were arrested for minor marijuana possession according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The American Civil Liberties Union provided data declaring that the state of Florida spent almost $229 million dollars in 2010 to enforce marijuana laws. The recent passage of Amendment 2 shows the drastic change in public opinion on marijuana legalization. New legislation will help people succeed instead of imprisoning them for non-violent drug offenses. Especially in the cases of young people or minors these new laws want to work to create brighter futures and more opportunities for success. Smith has stated that current marijuana laws “[Create] obstacles and [ruin] lives over minor infractions or youthful indiscretions.” He also stated that Florida politicians need to catch up to where the public opinion of the majority of the state’s population already is.
These two bills are not the first decriminalization efforts put in place by Florida lawmakers. Many cities and counties in Florida have enacted ordinances in order to reduce criminal offenses for possession of marijuana. These ordinances act in a similar way to decriminalization; they allow police officers the discretion to impose civil rather than criminal penalties upon those who have committed minor marijuana offenses. This means less arrests, less inmates in our jails, and the reallocation of law enforcement resources to more harmful crimes that directly affect public safety. Beginning in June 2015 cities and counties began to pass these ordinances. Miami-Dade County was first followed by Miami Beach, Hallandale Beach, Key West, West Palm Beach, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Volusia County, Tampa, Orlando, Osceola County, Alachua County, and the most recent, Port Richey. These ordinances outline fines ranging from $75 to $200 for a first offense of less than 20 grams, and $100 to $500 for subsequent offenses.