Florida Marijuana Laws Shifting, May Alter Seismically in 2016

Public support for the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana has never been higher, both nationally and in Florida. A state poll released in October revealed 51 percent of Florida voters supported the legalization of personal use marijuana. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Florida voters support legalization of medical marijuana. marijuanabuds

Although voters turned down an opportunity to legalize the drug this year, it’s almost certain to come to another vote, and probably sooner than later. As it now stands, 23 states allow some form of legal marijuana, while four plus Washington D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational purposes.

When that happens, there will be a host of issues with which state and local officials are going to be grappling – from employment concerns to bank transactions to penalties for those who don’t abide by the regulations. And let’s not forget: Even if the state does pass a law, marijuana remains a Schedule I narcotic, with no accepted medical use, as far as the federal government is concerned. Although U.S. Department of Justice officials have vowed to lay off those who abide by reasonable state guidelines, there is no guarantee. As we’ve seen in California, those promises may be worth little. Unless federal law changes too (and there are efforts underway to make that happen), a passage of any law in Florida may still leave recreational users, patients, doctors and businesses vulnerable to legal action.

Because penalties for many marijuana crimes in Florida remain harsh, it’s imperative to contact an experienced marijuana defense lawyer in Miami.

F.S. 893.13 indicates any person who sells, manufactures, delivers or possesses marijuana with intent to sell, commits a third-degree felony, punishable by five years in prison. To do so within 1,000 feet of a drug-free area (i.e., a school, public recreation area, place of worship, public housing facility or assisted living facility), commits a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Sales to a person under 18 is also a second-degree felony. Keeping a structure (i.e., store, warehouse, vehicle, etc.) to cultivate, manufacture or store marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Trafficking, which involves at least 25 pounds or 300 or more cannabis plants, is even more serious, characterized as a first-degree felony. Minimum mandatory penalties are at least three years. Those caught with between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds or plants will serve at least seven years, and those with more than 10,000 pounds or plants will serve a minimum 15 years.

Some areas in Florida have been easing marijuana ordinances, but only as they relate to minor offenders who possess the drug for personal use.

In June, Miami-Dade commissioners voted 10-3 to allow police to treat possession of marijuana the same way they do loitering or littering. That is, they can issue a civil citation with a $100 fine. That means the offender could stay out of the criminal justice system. However, the new measure isn’t mandatory. Police still have the option of filing criminal charges if they deem it worthy. And the measure only applies to possession of 20 grams or less, according to the Miami-Herald.

Broward commissioners reached a similar conclusion in November, when they decided those busted for a small baggy or joint of marijuana could be given a civil citation. However, civil citations are still just an option. Officers could still choose to file criminal charges against offenders, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Meanwhile, there are questions about how employers and banks will handle the issue. In Colorado, where residents passed a legalization referendum for recreational use in 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled in Coats v. Dish Network an employer can legally fire a worker for use of marijuana – even if the drug was prescribed by a doctor and even if its use fell within guidelines approved by the state. The reasoning was that because it was still illegal under federal law, marijuana use could be considered valid grounds for termination.

With regard to banks, they have typically stayed away from the marijuana issue, refusing to allow legal marijuana dispensaries to set up accounts. The fear is the financial institutions, which operate under federal laws, will be accused of money laundering because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. However, Bank of America recently released a report on marijuana industry prospects, which has been designated the first of its kind assessment by a large bank – and an indicator that the drug is gaining mainstream recognition and acceptance.

Two different groups vying to legalize recreational use in the state – United For Care and Regulate Florida – have indicated that while there are a number of initiatives on the table for 2016, there are also plans being made for 2018 if those don’t pass.

Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a confidential consultation on your pending criminal matter.

Additional Resources:

Update: Florida bids to fully legalize cannabis are now aiming at 2018, Dec. 10, 2015, By Michael Pollick, Sarasota Herald Tribune

More Blog Entries:

Successful Miami DUI Defense Requires Calculated Legal Strategy, Aug. 1, 2015, Miami Marijuana Attorney Blog