According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the most popular illicit drug of abuse in the state of Florida is marijuana. Obviously, the answer to the above question is that marijuana is still illegal in Florida; however, things may be changing in the near future.
In 2014, a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes was narrowly defeated. It appears that organizations interested in the legalization for marijuana use for medical issues, such as United for Care, believe that the wording in the ballot initiative may have been responsible for the narrow defeat. Florida currently does have a low-THC cannabis statute that allows for medical use of marijuana containing 0.8 percent or less THC and greater than 10 percent cannabidiol. However, smoking marijuana is still illegal. Patients with medical conditions that produce seizures or muscle spasms, or who have cancer, qualify for the use of this medical marijuana treatment option if no other satisfactory treatments exist.
On March 25, 2016, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 307 into law, an initiative that will expand access to all marijuana products for a specific group of patients.
It appears that right now only patients who are terminally ill and will die within a year may legally use any level of marijuana; however, there are other issues in the bill.
Interested readers who wish to learn more about Florida’s current laws and statutes regarding marijuana use can read more about them here.
The Battle Is Not Over
The issue of medical marijuana in Florida will rise again in November 2016 when Florida voters will get another chance to vote on legalizing medical marijuana. The new initiative requires the Florida Department of Health to oversee medical marijuana treatment centers.
However, it appears that the legalization of marijuana for recreational use is still a long way off despite marijuana being the most popular illicit drug abuse in Florida.
Legalization of medical marijuana may pave the way for more lax approaches to recreational use, however.
Personal Use of Marijuana
Currently, penalties for marijuana possession are dependent on the amount of marijuana in one’s possession at the time of arrest and the intent of the individual as determined by the arresting officers. Individuals who are arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana that appear to be only in possession for personal use will receive much more lenient treatment than individuals who are suspected of selling marijuana. In addition, minors in possession of marijuana will typically face some relatively strict penalties.
In general, penalties in Florida appear relatively consistent with those in many other states:
- Possession of small amounts (20 grams or less) carries maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and one year incarceration. These are class A misdemeanors.
- Individuals possessing 25 grams to 25 pounds (or growing 300 or fewer plants) for personal use are subject to five years of imprisonment and $5,000 in fines as a maximum penalty. However, possessing these amounts within 1,000 feet of a school or with a child in the home makes it a felony with a maximum of 15 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine.
- Sale and possession of larger amounts of marijuana qualify as felonies, and the fines and maximum jail sentences are significantly increased from the above.
It will be interesting to see how particular designations of criminal activity for the possession of marijuana may be altered if medical marijuana is legalized in Florida. As of the time of this writing, possession of marijuana is still illegal in Florida except in some very circumscribed cases (e.g. terminally ill patients), and possession of large amounts of marijuana or possessing marijuana with the intent to sell are harshly penalized.