The Sunshine State might be the next to legalize marijuana, but is it already legal? Read on for a rundown of what’s going on in Florida.
Marijuana is legal for medical use in Florida, but it is not legal for recreational use. In 2016, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana for patients with qualifying medical conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Under the law, patients can obtain medical marijuana with a recommendation from a qualified physician and a state-issued medical marijuana card. However, possession of marijuana for recreational use remains illegal in Florida, and those found violating the law can face criminal charges and penalties.
But while the state legislature still needs to figure out how to regulate and tax this new industry, many activists are pushing hard to ensure that when lawmakers get around to doing so, they do things right.
For example, they want to ensure that any system regulating marijuana is inclusive enough to cater to all residents, including those who don’t fit into the stereotypical “pothead” profile. And they’re also looking at ways to prevent young kids from getting their hands on this potentially dangerous drug.
Since laws keep changing rapidly, making things a bit confusing sometimes, check out our friends at DISA to see a complete map of every state. They have information on what is legal, medical use, recreational use, and everything else.
Florida Medical Marijuana
As of October 1, 2017, 47 states allow medical marijuana users to obtain a doctor’s note stating that they require its use. However, only two states expressly authorize using marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation — Alaska and Oregon [sources: AP/NORML].
As of July 2015, 23 states allowed physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients for pain relief, nausea associated with chemotherapy and AIDS treatment, muscle spasms, seizures, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological disorders, according to NORML. Only one state allows doctors to prescribe marijuana solely for general health purposes: West Virginia.
In addition, eight states allow specific individuals to grow small amounts of medical marijuana for personal use: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, and Utah. Another six states — Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire — permit caregivers (people like family members or friends) to possess limited quantities of marijuana for giving to qualified patients [sources: AP/NORML].
While these provisions may cover most Americans’ situations, advocates say access isn’t equal across the country. For example, in August 2012, found wide disparities between black and white youth marijuana usage rates, which were highest among blacks ages 12 through 17.
More research shows that African American teens are three times as likely than whites to try marijuana before age 15. Even though racial minorities tend to deal with higher instances of substance abuse, studies show that Latino families often hold onto outdated stereotypes about marijuana use that put them at risk.
That same study found that while nearly half of Latinos said marijuana caused mental illness, only 21 percent thought it should remain banned. Meanwhile, 71 percent felt that marijuana use shouldn’t be regulated because it wasn’t harmful, another common misconception held by non-black minority groups.
Until researchers understand why minority youths are disproportionately affected by drugs, education campaigns to alleviate social inequalities could help stem drug addiction.
Now let’s look at how Florida compares to other states allowing medical marijuana use.
Marijuana Possession was Decriminalized In 2014
On April 20, 2013, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7066, making Florida the first state to decriminalize simple marijuana possession. Under the bill, third-time offenders are given civil citations rather than criminal charges, but fines range from $65 to $500 depending on prior offenses and the amount possessed.
If convicted, violators cannot receive jail sentences or probation. They also must perform community service. Those convicted of violent felonies, however, face harsher punishments.
After years of pressure from organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU of Florida, this change came. These groups saw the legislation as a way to keep nonviolent criminals off the streets, primarily because drug arrests accounted for 90 percent of police stops yearly.
At least four other states have followed suit, reducing penalties for minor marijuana crimes. For example, Georgia reduced misdemeanor penalties for low-level marijuana violations to include a fine instead of prison time, beginning in late 2011.
Tennessee freed thousands of prisoners from overcrowded jails in early 2010 following Senate Bill 486, which lowered felony punishment ranges for possessing fewer than 50 grams of Schedule I narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. Then in 2009, Oklahoma enacted similar changes to its sentencing guidelines.
Currently, 19 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed laws providing partial or total decriminalization of marijuana possession. Of the 19 states, 16 and D.C. have eliminated convictions for simple marijuana possession.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia continue to prohibit marijuana sales outright. In addition, despite recent progress, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Next, we’ll look at potential pitfalls awaiting Florida once lawmakers begin drafting rules surrounding marijuana regulation.
What About Medical Marijuana Dispensaries And Decriminalizing Pot Possession?
Under Section 18(b)(4) of HB 7096, medical marijuana facilities located within cities and counties covered by House Bill 984 won’t be able to set up shop unless local governments opt-in. Cities and counties that allow dispensaries must establish zoning regulations to protect against adverse effects by businesses operating near schools, playgrounds, and daycare centers.
Dispensaries will also have to pay annual fees ranging from $1,000-$5,000 per location based on population size. In addition, once operational, they will have to post signs indicating who operates the business and what hours it accepts visitors.
No licenses will be issued to anyone running operations outside city limits. Patients seeking care from licensed providers must provide proof of eligibility via ID cards supplied by the Department of Health.
Meanwhile, SB 836 eliminates the possibility of prosecuting adults caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana for mere possession. Instead, adults found guilty of having smaller amounts of marijuana will face a maximum penalty of 30 days imprisonment and a $500 fine.
However, people arrested with more significant amounts of dope can face a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Still, possessing anything above 35 pounds of dried marijuana carries a stiffer penalty. Anyone charged with trafficking marijuana faces a life term behind bars.
Another provision in both bills prevents minors under 18 from being mistreated compared to adults. Both bans marijuana advertising directed toward children and requires that minors involved in adult activities receive appropriate training.
With this new information, it seems clear that Florida will soon join the states allowing recreationally minded citizens to partake in marijuana use. After all, the state’s governor endorsed the idea during his successful campaign last fall.
So expect to see plenty of billboards promoting “420,” the code word used to signify marijuana ingestion. Just remember that you aren’t alone. With more than 40 million Americans currently living in areas where medical marijuana is legal, the chances are high that someone nearby is trying out the stuff too.