Orlando State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a progressive champion on the issues, announced he has re-filed legislation to overhaul Florida’s draconian cannabis possession laws. Fellow local State Senator Randolph Bracy will be filing the same bill in the Senate. The legislation, HB 1203, eliminates criminal penalties for personal use cannabis or paraphernalia possession in Florida. Both are elected Democrats, which means they will need to gain support from the Republican majority in Tallahassee for passage.
“2018 must be the year for cannabis reform in Florida,” Rep. Smith stated. “Not only must we fix the many problems with the implementation of our medical cannabis law, but we need to quit throwing Floridians in jail for simple possession. It makes absolutely zero sense for law enforcement to waste their time and valuable taxpayer resources arresting 39,706 Floridians per year for smoking weed. I’ve filed serious legislation to address this injustice and move Florida out of the stone ages on this important issue. Time to get it done.”
HB 1203 re-categorizes misdemeanor criminal offenses for minor possession as non-criminal civil violations. If passed, adults and minors would no longer be subject to arrest for unlawful possession of “personal use quantities of cannabis” defined as 20 grams or less. Adult violations under the law would assess civil penalties of no more than $100 or up to 15 hours of community service for those facing financial hardships. Minors would be ordered to complete up to 15 hours of community service, a drug awareness program, or both.
This legislation earned its first-ever Senate hearing during the 2017 legislative session, a historic milestone. Since June 2015, 14 cities and counties in Florida have instituted similar policies to curb misdemeanor arrests for cannabis possession of modest amounts of marijuana, including Miami-Dade County, Volusia County, Alachua County, and the City of Orlando. HB 1203 intends to build on that momentum in an effort to modernize Florida’s cannabis laws in ways that benefit all Floridians. Common sense cannabis decriminalization eliminates our state’s punitive approach to low-level drug offenses, allows law enforcement to focus on serious crimes, and saves the state millions of dollars.
Under Florida law, cannabis possession constitutes at least a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to data prepared by FDLE at the request of Rep. Smith, 44,033 Floridians were arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses in 2016. Of those arrested, 90.2% were arrested for cannabis possession. The cost to taxpayers for arrests during that time period were unavailable, but based on the most recent data included in an ACLU report, Florida spent $228,635,840 enforcing cannabis laws in 2010. This legislation also addresses the disproportionate impact cannabis criminalization has on communities of color.