Despite Legalization for Medical Use, Florida Marijuana Arrests Soar

Two years ago, Floridians overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, and since then, more than 1000,000 prescriptions for the drug have been written. And yet, Miami drug crime defense lawyers know arrests for recreational use and possession have been soaring statewide. South Florida marijuana defense lawyer

In Sarasota county, for instance, Sarasota Magazine reports arrests for recreational use of the drug shot up by 35 percent in 2017 compared to 2010. Marijuana arrests rates this year suggest the trend is continuing on an upward swing. The county sheriff insists those figures are misleading because marijuana in most cases was a secondary offense, meaning those individuals weren’t directly targeted for recreational marijuana use. There is some evidence to dispute this. But while some areas such as Broward and Miami-Dade have made it more of a civil infraction than a criminal offense, police still have a wide amount of discretion when deciding whether to make an arrest or issue a ticket or warning. Some expect it could take another decade or more before Florida legalizes recreational marijuana.

In the meantime, a first-time arrest for possession of marijuana won’t lead to a criminal conviction, but defendants often are required to go through a diversion program that can cost hundreds of dollars in fines and other costs, probation, substance abuse counseling and community service.

F.S. 893.13(6) outlaws possession of a controlled substance, such as marijuana. Actual proximity to a controlled substance like cannabis isn’t sufficient to meet the criteria of the statute, which requires prosecutors to establish the individual had some degree of control over the drug. For example, in 2009, Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in Sundlin v. State that a crack pipe within a defendant’s reach on a nightstand near a bed where he was lying as not enough to link defendant to that paraphernalia because it failed to prove defendant had control over the premises of the hotel room.

Those with repeated offenses can lose their license and be sentenced to jail time.

In Daytona Beach recently, a man was arrested for possession of 650 grams of marijuana, saying he was only selling the drug for extra money to buy Christmas presents for his children. He was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell with 1,000 feet of a daycare and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The ACLU reports more than half of all drug arrests nationally are for marijuana, most of those involving people with small amounts. While people use marijuana recreationally at the same rates, studies have found people of color are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to their white counterparts. In some places, like Washington D.C., blacks were 8.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Similar findings were reported after an investigation last year by the Miami New Times, revealing that Miami-Dade Police handed out more than 10,000 civil citations for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana over the last three years. Of those, 72 percent were given to white people and 28 percent to black people. by comparison, police in the Miami area have sent more than 5,000 people to jail for marijuana possession who were technically eligible for a ticket under the ordinance that passed in the county in 2015. The data doesn’t show demographic information, but a random sample found that 4 out of 5 of those arrested and sent to jail were either black or Hispanic.

Statewide, some 42,200 people were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession last year, which was 6 percent more than in 2016. Of those, half were black, despite the fact they only account for 17 percent of Florida’s population.

As Miami criminal defense attorneys, we understand that even if a drug conviction doesn’t lead to jail time, it can have serious consequences, such as losing public benefits such as public housing, driving privileges, government employment, scholarships and financial aid for college.

Meanwhile, more than half of Americans support full legalization of marijuana.

If you are arrested for marijuana possession in South Florida, contact our experienced marijuana defense attorneys to learn more about your defense options.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Medical Marijuana Usage is Soaring, But Arrests for Recreational Pot Are, Too, June 27, 2018, By David Hackett, Sarasota Magazine

More Blog Entries:

Can You Lawfully “Toss the Drugs” in Florida Drug Case?, Oct. 22, 2018, Miami Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

Justia Lawyer Rating for Richard Ansara