Standing outside the House Chamber doors, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith alongside cannabis advocates from across the state called for the passage of HB 1203/SB 1602. Under Florida law, cannabis possession constitutes at least a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to data prepared by FDLE at the request of Rep. Smith, 46,045 Floridians were arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses in 2017. Of those arrested, 91.5% were arrested for cannabis possession. This is an increase from the previous year, with young people disproportionately impacted, and the number of seniors arrested on the rise. The cost to taxpayers for arrests during that time period were unavailable. Based on the most recent data included in an ACLU report, Florida spent $228,635,840 enforcing cannabis laws in 2010.
Smith’s campaign claims that cannabis criminalization has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. A 2015 report conducted by CBS Miami determined that even though arrests for cannabis possession were decreasing, the overwhelming majority of those arrested were black or African American.
Rep. Smith provided the following statement:
“I think there’s no question that our criminal justice system is broken and in need of serious reforms. While Florida’s mismanaged prisons continue to overflow and become an even larger burden to taxpayers, our state legislature has not offered enough solutions. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in 2017, 42,153 people in Florida were arrested for misdemeanor cannabis possession, contributing to 91.5% of total arrests for misdemeanor drug possession. As more and more people realize that cannabis is not the gateway drug that many have falsely alleged, we’re actually seeing cannabis arrests in Florida are on the rise. We believe as an overwhelming number of Floridians do, no one should be thrown in jail or have their lives ruined simply for smoking weed. This is not a radical idea.”
Since June 2015, 14 cities and counties in Florida have instituted policies to curb misdemeanor arrests for cannabis possession of modest amounts of marijuana, including Miami-Dade County, Volusia County, Alachua County, and the City of Orlando. HB 1203 is purported to extend that effort to the state of Florida as a whole.