With the legalization of marijuana in the state of Florida, one might think that the “War on Drugs” is starting to come to an end – but apparently no one has told the Florida House of Representatives.
Earlier this month, the House passed HB 477, a 167-page bill that would place new mandatory minimums on individuals who are convicted of trafficking fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have taken hold of Florida citizens. The bill will also name these drugs as Schedule I. Federal law currently lists fentanyl as a Schedule II drug. Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug.
While these drugs are extremely addictive, many drug experts argue that enacting more mandatory minimums (a key component of the War on Drugs) will do nothing to help addicts, especially when the bill labels those caught with over four grams of fentanyl as a “fentanyl trafficker.”
The charges and mandatory minimums in HB 477 include:
- If you are caught with 4-14 grams of fentanyl, you will be sentenced to a minimum of three years behind bars.
- If you are caught with 14-28 grams of fentanyl, you will be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years behind bars
- If you are caught with at least 28 grams of fentanyl, you will be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years behind bars
- If you are caught with 280-500 grams of synthetic cannabinoids, you will be sentenced to three years behind bars.
- If you are caught with over 30 kilograms of codeine, you will be sentenced to life without parole
The above mandatory minimums would also come with over $50,000 in fines. Offenders may even face up to $500,000 in fines in addition to their sentence.
HB 477 will also add additional charges if trafficking the drug results in a death: “a person who by act, procurement, or culpable negligence, knowingly and intentionally sells or delivers a quantity of a substance containing detectable amounts of heroin…fentanyl…or an analog…or any combination thereof, and the drug or drug combination results in the death of a person, commits manslaughter.” This crime would be a third degree felony, adding to the first degree felony trafficking charges above.
Additionally, if someone is caught trafficking over 30 kilograms of codeine and their actions result in someone’s death, they can be given the death penalty.
Arguments For and Against HB 477
No matter what the punishments for holding or moving opioids are, we can all agree that fentanyl and similar drugs are a huge problem throughout the state. Fentanyl is 50 times more addictive than heroin, and kills hundreds of people each year.
Florida has one of the top state for fentanyl seizures since it was first popularized in the past few years. It has become a replacement for other synthetic, cheap opioids that have been taken off of the streets. The state needs to take action to prevent fentanyl deaths.
However, while lawmakers argue that this bill only targets traffickers, critics say that many of these traffickers are addicts themselves, and that these mandatory minimums will still heavily affect addicts. Throwing addicts behind bars doesn’t do anything to help rehabilitate the person, or tackle the problem of the opiate crisis as a whole.
Florida has seen the consequences of a bill like this before. In 2014, lawmakers had to scale back on mandatory minimum sentences for drugs like oxycodone. While these minimums promised to only target traffickers, the state found that addicts were also being subjected to mandatory minimums, and were not getting the help they needed to recover.
HB 477 may be making the same mistake, especially when you consider that the bill is pretty much identical to previous laws regarding oxycodone. When lawmakers decided they needed to scale back on mandatory minimums, trafficking four grams of oxycodone or hydrocodone would also land you in prison for a mandatory minimum of three years.
The bill is not law, although the Florida House’s unanimous passing of HB 477 gives the bill good odds. The bill will still have to go through the Senate and be signed by the governor, though, so if you have an opinion on it, now is the time to voice it.
If You Are Accused of Drug Crimes
Florida lawmakers are sending a very direct message to drug traffickers around the state. If you are dealing with synthetic opioids, you face serious consequences. The War on Drugs is not over in the Sunshine State.
Being arrested tomorrow for trafficking fentanyl will not come with a mandatory sentence, but that could change very soon. If you are accused of drug crimes, or are afraid you may be accused, get a Florida criminal defense lawyer on your side immediately.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.