Marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been with us for thousands of years. Originating in central and southern Asia, seeds of the plant have been found with a 2500 year old Chinese mummy as well as in other ancient burial sites in Romania, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. References to its psychoactive properties have been cited in the writings of early Christians and Jews. Christopher Columbus may have been an avid user and scholars point to some cryptic references made to the drug in the works of William Shakespeare.
The US has had a shaky relationship with marijuana since its sale was first outlawed in 1906. Hemp, which is a fiber made from the plant and used for rope, clothing and construction material, was banned by the US pursuant to the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act in 1937 – though the government encouraged farmers during WWII to grow as much hemp as possible. Reefer Madness, a drug propaganda film that is now a cult classic and first shown in 1936, vastly exaggerated the effects of marijuana in which a number of characters either met untimely ends, became sexually promiscuous or ended up insane as a result of smoking the evil weed and helped fuel lasting misconceptions about its short and long term effects. During the Depression and into relatively recent times, marijuana use has been linked to crime, violence, addiction and other deviant behavior. Many opponents of legalization feel the drug is a gateway or introduction to more onerous substances like cocaine and heroin.
Marijuana became classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance when the federal Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use for treatment and that users have a high risk of psychological and physical dependence. For decades, all states punished possession for even small amounts with mandatory minimum prison sentences. Despite numerous studies that have indicated legitimate uses of marijuana to treat glaucoma and chronic pain, it remains a Schedule 1 drug along with such highly addictive and dangerous drugs as cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy and others.
Public attitudes toward marijuana use have softened in recent decades. With prisons overflowing with nonviolent offenders, many of whom were imprisoned for possession or sale of marijuana, advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana and fair sentencing laws have lobbied for reform. Consequently, a number of states have revamped their marijuana laws to reflect the attitudes and sensitivities of its constituencies. State governments have also viewed legalization as an opportunity to tax its sale, providing a vast new revenue source for their straining budgets.
Florida’s Attitude Toward Marijuana
Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use with varying regulations and restrictions on its sale, possession and use. Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado have completely decriminalized marijuana use for adults for recreational purposes with some limits on its sale and use. Most other states, while not allowing medical or any other use, have nonetheless revised its laws so that possession of small amounts are treated as either infractions or low level misdemeanors. Every state, with some limitations, allows first time offenders convicted of possession to enter diversion programs or to have their convictions dismissed provided the offender completes a drug education or treatment program, passes random screening tests and has no other offenses for a year or more.
Florida, though, remains one of a handful of states that still treats marijuana as a major, addictive narcotic drug and has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. There have been efforts to at least get medical marijuana on the state ballot. Revising the drug laws as they pertain to mandatory minimum sentences and length of incarceration time is another matter. Florida law requires a mandate of 60% to get an amendment passed that would allow medical marijuana to be grown, and dispensed, for certain medical conditions. A ballot measure in 2014 that would have legalized marijuana for limited medical use fell short after voters, who once supported the measure by 80%, only approved the amendment by just under 55%, ensuring its failure to pass. Observers felt that voters were turned off by ads and arguments from opponents who cautioned that hucksters and quick-buck artists would flood the state with dispensaries and that passage of the measure would quickly lead to legalization of recreational use, which has yet to have the consensus in the state that medical use enjoys.
Currently, SB 7066 is in the works, which was written to revise SB 1030, a bill passed in 2014 that legalized a low dose CBD strain of cannabis for use by patients suffering from debilitating seizures. The new bill expands the number of eligible farmers or growers to a limited extent while adding such conditions as HIV, epilepsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease as conditions for which health care providers may prescribe cannabis. Implementation of the law, however, has been stymied by potential pot growers who object to its strict regulations on growing. For instance, the bill would not benefit most African-American farmers because the act has a requirement that a grower have owned a farm or nursery in one location for at least 30 years and be able to grow 400,000 plants annually. The overwhelming majority of African-American farmers in Florida do not qualify under these restrictions.
Penalties for Possession and Sale
The harshness of Florida’s marijuana law is reflected in its criminalizing even one gram of marijuana by making it a first degree misdemeanor. Possession of more than 20 grams, which is less than an ounce and often an amount for personal use only, is a third degree felony. The following lists the penalties for possession and sale:
First-time offenders for possession are also eligible for drug court. Participation is voluntary and you must complete participation in a court- approved drug program, AA, group therapy sessions and undergo random drug screenings for one year or 18 months. If successful, your charges will be dismissed.
Sale or Intent to Sell Penalty
*mandatory minimum prison sentence of 3 years
**Mandatory minimum prison sentence of 7 years
***Mandatory prison sentence of 15 years
A sale within 1,000 feet of a park, school, college, daycare center or convenience store is a second degree felony with prison time up to 15 years and a $10,000 fine.
Also, Florida criminalizes the sale of any drug paraphernalia such as bongs, pipes, scales, spoons, containers, bags and syringes by making it a first degree misdemeanor with a sentence of up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
For any marijuana conviction, the court can also suspend your driving privileges for up to 2 years.