Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Lake Worth Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens want people to stop going to jail or prison for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The pair of lawmakers introduced bills this week that would make possession of one ounce or less of cannabis – described as a “personal use quantity” to be a civil violation, rather than a misdemeanor. Punishment would come in the form of fines and community service, rather than jail time.
Smith filed House Bill 1443 and Clemens Senate Bill 1662.
Unlike a similar ordinance enacted by Orlando last summer, in these bills police would not have the option of the civil penalty or a misdemeanor. When Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orlando Police Chief John Mina declared support for that ordinance Mina pointed out that extenuating circumstances, such as a belligerent violator, could lead police to choose an arrest over a ticket.
Smith cited data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that shows over 90 percent of misdemeanor drug arrests – about 40,000 a year – in Florida involved marijuana. The data also show a steady decline in such arrests, from 49,000 in 2010 to 39,000 in 2015.
He also cited an ACLU report that determined Florida spent $228 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 stated in a news release. “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.”