Florida lawmakers file bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana statewide

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PHOTO VIA WIKIPEDIA
Two Florida lawmakers filed companion bills Wednesday that would stop people from being arrested for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed HB 1403 and SB 1662 to "overhaul Florida’s draconian marijuana possession laws," according to a press release. Under the current law in Florida, possessing small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor charge that can land you in jail for a year or force you to pay a $1,000 fine. The new proposals would re-categorize misdemeanor criminal offenses for minor possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia as non-criminal civil violations. Instead of going to jail, adults found with small amounts of cannabis would pay a fine of no more than $100 or complete 15 hours of community service if they can't afford to pay. Minors found with cannabis would be ordered to complete community service or a drug awareness program.

Last year, Orlando joined several other Florida cities when it adopted a measure that decriminalized possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana and gave police officers discretion to issue civil citations instead of arresting people.

Smith points out that last year, 39,706 Floridians were arrested for low-level cannabis possession in 2016, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union says the Sunshine State spent almost $229 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010.

"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 says in a statement. "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."

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