War on Drugs: Is it Time for Florida to Legalize Marijuana?

The War on Drugs began in June 1971, during the Richard Nixon administration. In 1972, a study was done, at the behest of President Nixon, by an executive committee, chaired by former Republican Governor of Pennsylvania; Raymond Shafer. The results of that committee are shocking: they unanimously recommended the decriminalization of possession and distribution of marijuana for personal consumption. In turn, President Nixon ignored them. Thereafter, President Ronald Reagan significantly increased efforts and resources in the War on Drugs. It was during the 1980s that incarceration levels increased drastically, especially among minorities.

The War on Drugs does not actually target drugs for their alleged negative effects. Rather, the history of drugs laws reveal that this is actually a thinly veiled war on race. To this day, the sharp disproportionate levels of incarceration among the races are staggering. Almost an entire generation of young Black and Latino men has been incarcerated in the War on Drugs. But as more people are jailed, and millions more dollars are spent: drug usage in this country continues to skyrocket. The War on Drugs isn’t working- it never did and it never will. This is not to endorse the usage or decriminalization of hard drugs, but rather to say that the focus of the War on Drugs shouldn’t be a harmless plant, marijuana.

The decriminalization of marijuana would save the federal government, and state governments, billions. The costs of enforcing these laws and incarcerating the high number of offenders are mind blowing. 2.4 billion dollars is spent on enforcement every year alone. And that is just by the federal government, completely separated from how much state governments spend.

Finally, some states are progressing forward.  Although a number of states have allowed marijuana for medical purposes for some time, a select few have taken it a step farther by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Vermont, for example, has become the latest state to decriminalize.  Under the new Vermont law, civil penalties will replace criminal sanctions when is a person is found to be in possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. Possession under age 21 is being treated exactly as alcohol possession is treated. 

However, it is important to understand that the possession of marijuana is still a criminal offense in the state of Florida. Depending on the amount of marijuana in possession one can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Possession of less than 20 grams is a first degree misdemeanor. Possession of more than 20 grams is a third degree felony.

In Florida, if one is found guilty of misdemeanor possession, that is with less than 20 grams, they can be sentenced to up to a year in prison and/or be forced to pay up to a $1,000.00 fine. If found guilty of felony possession, that is with more than 20 grams, the penalty goes up to five years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine. Also, whether misdemeanor or felony, one’s driver’s license will be suspended for two years.

Although many states are making steps forward in the area of marijuana decriminalization, Florida is not one of them. Stay tuned for more information and news on marijuana decriminalization. 

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