Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Working Its Way Through Tallahassee

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Cannabis is a hot topic this legislative session.

As Florida agencies grapple with how to implement marijuana for medicinal purposes, a house bill is making the rounds seeking to decriminalize pot all together.

HB 1403 categorizes misdemeanor criminal offenses for minor possession as non-criminal civil violations, said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Smith, a gay Democrat from Orlando, introduced the bill. If the bill is passed, Smith said, “adults and minors would no longer be subject to arrest for possession of personal use quantities of cannabis defined as one ounce or less.”

Jeff Clemons, a Lake Worth Democrat, filed a companion bill in the Florida Senate (SB 1662.)

Related: LGBTA Caucus Regroups In Lakeland 

Under Smith’s proposal, adults found with small amounts of marijuana would pay a fine of no more than $100 or complete 15 hours of community service. The change, Smith said, would reduce unnecessary arrests and unclog Florida’s judicial system.

In 2016, FDLE records show 39,706 Floridians were arrested for low-level cannabis possession. In 2010, Florida spent $229 million enforcing marijuana laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“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. 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.”

Last November Florida voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution allowing for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Several South Florida municipalities have passed moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries until state guidelines are issued.

Related: Oakland Park Places Moratorium on Medical Marijuana 

Per the Office of Compassionate Use website, qualified patients must be a Florida resident, have a three month or longer relationship with a certified physician and receive a diagnosis of a condition acceptable for treatment with low-THC (medical marijuana).

Meanwhile, HB1403 currently sits in the house criminal justice subcommittee and no votes have been recorded. The 12-member committee includes David Richardson (D-Miami Beach).