During the November 2016 election, amongst other surprising outcomes, our state voted to legalize medical marijuana for “individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”These conditions include things like cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and other health issues a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would be beneficial.While you can’t get medical marijuana yet, by October of this year, the Florida Department of Health will begin issuing licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers and identification cards for eligible patients and caregivers.In addition to the legalization of medical marijuana, our state has also decided it is time to decriminalize – or at least soften the rules and penalties – regarding the possession of small amounts of marijuana.The problem with this is that these new rules aren’t uniform throughout the state. You can be in one city and be given a citation for marijuana possession, while in another city you might be arrested for engaging in the same behavior.So let’s review the current marijuana laws and penalties in our state (and South Florida in particular) and then take a look at what might be on the horizon for marijuana here.
Florida Marijuana Laws and Penalties Right Now
As Florida’s statutes stand, possession of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by jail time, fines, or both. You can be charged with either a misdemeanor (if you possess less than 20 grams) or a felony (if you possess any amount over 20 grams). If you have more than 25 pounds of marijuana, you will be charged with a drug trafficking offense.Here are the current charges and penalties for marijuana possession:
- Less than 20 grams is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- 20 grams to 25 pounds is a felony offense punishable by up to 5 years in jail and fines up to $5,000.
- 25 to 2,000 pounds is a felony offense punishable by a mandatory minimum of 3 years up to 15 years in jail and fines up to $25,000.
- 2,000 to 10,000 pounds is a felony offense punishable by a mandatory minimum of 7 years up to 30 years in jail and fines up to $50,000.
- 10,000 pounds or more is a felony offense punishable by a mandatory minimum of 15 years up to 30 years in jail and fines up to $200,000.
However, what about the places where marijuana has more or less been decriminalized?Right now, 16 cities and counties have adopted new rules concerning the possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana. Instead of being arrested and charged with a criminal misdemeanor, offenders are given a civil citation or a ticket. A citation means you don’t have to go to jail and are only mandated to pay a fine between $75 and $100.
Where Can You Get Cited for Marijuana Possession… and Where Will Is It Still a Criminal Offense?Miami-Dade is one of the counties that has issued citations since 2015. From last year to this year, they issued almost 5,000 citations. The Tampa Police Department has issued over 1,100 citations. Broward County has softened their marijuana rules since July 2016 and has issued 120 citations.Other cities and counties, though, even those that have the citation option, aren’t using it. Palm Beach County has implemented softer marijuana laws since December 2015, but the law hasn’t been used – no marijuana citations have been issued.In fact, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has ordered his deputies to keep marijuana possession criminal despite the new citation law. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office claims that they’re following the state’s law instead of their own.Some counties, like Alachua County, have citation ordinances in place, but they have yet to devise a system where police officers can actually start issuing citations.This is unfortunate, because solely depending on where you’re located, you could either get a citation or arrested for having marijuana. Doesn’t sound very fair, does it?Since the middle of 2015, around 6,500 marijuana citations have been issued. In that same time frame, over 44,000 people were arrested for the same crime: having less than 20 grams of marijuana.
The Future of Marijuana in Florida
In March, State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and state Senator Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed bills to “overhaul Florida’s draconian marijuana possession laws.” The new bills would have decriminalized the possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana statewide. Instead of heading to jail, individuals would either pay a fine up to $100 or completing 15 hours of community service if they can’t afford the fine.
Although both bills died in committee, hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer for a new bill to pass that decriminalizes marijuana uniformly throughout the state. Until then, if you’ve been charged with a marijuana crime, reach out to an experienced Florida marijuana attorney to defend your charges and fight for your rights.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.