Florida Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana Possession, Take Step Toward Nullifying Federal Prohibtion

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Jan. 11, 2017) – A bill introduced in the Florida House would decriminalize marijuana possession. Passage into law would take a step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect in the state.

Introduced by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando), House Bill 1203 (H1203) would make possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana a “civil violation… [to] be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $100.” Underage offenders would be “ordered to complete up to 15 hours of community service, a drug awareness program, or both.”

The law would also ban any recourse being taken against marijuana offenders in the state by government officials. It reads as follows:

Possession of a personal use quantity of cannabis or a cannabis accessory, or the presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in the urine, blood, sweat, hair, fingernails, toenails, or other tissue or fluid of the human body, or a conviction, citation, admission, or plea bargain thereof, does not constitute grounds for denying a person student financial aid, public housing, or any other form of public financial assistance, including unemployment benefits; denying a person the right to operate a motor vehicle; or disqualifying a person from serving as a foster parent or an adoptive parent.

“It’s time for FL to STOP arresting 39,706 Floridians per year just for smoking weed. Proud to lead the charge on statewide cannabis decriminalization w/this legislation two years in a row!” Rep. Smith said in a tweet about his legislation.

Passage of H1203 would take another step toward ending marijuana prohibition in the Sunshine State. Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as H1203 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

LEGALITY

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Florida has already legalized medical marijuana. Decriminalization of marijuana in Florida would remove another layer of laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing criminal penalties, Florida essentially sweeps away some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Passage of H1203 would begin to erode federal prohibition and that the first step toward nullifying it in practice in the state.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalized recreational cannabis, with California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joining them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states in November 2016.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

H1203 was referred to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving to the House floor.

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