Now that Florida has legalized marijuana for medicinal use, a couple of state lawmakers want to ensure that law enforcement doesn’t put more people in jail for pot possession.
Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith and Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens recently introduced bills in the state legislature aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession. These bills would allow anyone caught with up to an ounce of weed to simply repay their debt to civil society through a small fine and/or community service rather than through the criminal justice system.
“It is past time for the legislature to end the unjust incarceration of Floridians for non-violent drug offenses,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”
Last year, a number of local jurisdictions across Florida passed decriminalization ordinances – giving police the freedom to issue citations for petty pot possession when the offense was not connected to violent crime. As it stands, 14 cities and counties in the Sunshine States have adopted these policies, including Miami-Dade County and Orlando.
Presently, anyone convicted of small time marijuana possession in Florida can be sentenced to up to a year in jail, with fines reaching $1,000.
There were almost 40,000 people busted in Florida for this offense in 2016, according to the West Orlando News.
Smith believes the numbers are not indicative of a state that wants to help its citizens.
“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 said. “We should be creating opportunities for people to succeed– not creating obstacles and ruining lives over minor infractions or youthful indiscretions.”
A report from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that Florida spent $228 million in 2010 enforcing marijuana laws – a large majority of these arrests were for minor pot possession.