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Advocates Want To Re-Classify Misdemeanors For Marijuana Possession

Davondra Alston

Cannabis Advocates and Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith want to re-classify misdemeanor criminal offenses for marijuana possession. It would make possession under 20 grams a civil violation. 

If passed, the bill would prevent misdemeanor arrests for possession of marijuana in Florida. Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith (D-Orlando) says the amount of arrests over cannabis is outrageous.

“Law enforcement should be focusing on apprehending dangerous and violent criminals, not locking people up for smoking weed. I think we can all agree on that," Guillermo-Smith says.

Last year, nearly 43,000 Floridians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Under the proposal, instead of an apprehension, violations up to 20 grams would carry civil fines of $100 and subjects would face up to 15 hours of community service if they were not able to pay.

"And if you can’t afford to pay that civil citation; because we know many low income people are disproportionately impacted by these types of arrests and these traffic stops." Guillermo-Smith says, "then they would be able to do community service in substitute of that civil citation."

Members of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and medical cannabis patients believe Florida cannabis laws are strict. Riverview attorney Michael Minardi, a NORML advocate says the arrests for marijuana use must stop.

“And this is what we need to have here in Florida. This is what the voters of Florida believe. We have some of the harshest cannabis laws in the country, here in Florida." Minardi says, "20 grams is a misdemeanor. In most other states it’s 28 an ounce, in Ohio for years, it was four ounces.”

Florida Department of Law Enforcement data shows 23 percent of the misdemeanor marijuana arrests in 2017 were people between the ages of 21 to 25. More than half of those arrested were white. 42 percent were black.