A new Florida bill aims to erase minor misdemeanor marijuana convictions, including distribution and possession of less than 20 grams. The bill wouldn’t automatically expunge criminal records, but would make it easier for those with convictions to have them removed, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Sponsors noted the many ill effects of “minor” crime convictions, including blocked job opportunities, rejection from certain schools, loss of public benefits and housing. All this of course is on top of the expenses of arrest, incarceration, fines, etc.
Some convicted of non-violent felony drug crimes fare even worse. The Miami New Times reported on the case of a 45-year-old from Brevard who was a 22-year-old college student in 1997 when he was arrested on felony drug charges for having a two-inch plant growing out of a coffee cup in his home. Officers spotted it while responding to an unrelated matter with his roommate. All these years later, it still prevents him from finding housing and employment – despite the fact that the drug is legal as medicine in Florida and for recreation use in 15 states and Washington, D.C.
As lawmakers noted, “We have created and expanded a billion-dollar marijuana industry, and yet we have not repaired people who for decades have been incarcerated for low-level marijuana crimes.” Minorities, studies show
, have been disproportionately impacted. Although this bill would not address felony convictions, supporters say it opens the door for legislation to do so down the road.
If the measure doesn’t pass, advocates say they could put the question directly to the voters next year. There is also a groundswell of hope that marijuana might be decriminalized at the federal level sometime over the next two years.
What If I’m Arrested for Marijuana Now?
Although some cities have lowered the priority of marijuana arrests and prosecution, it’s still a possibility. Some jurisdictions give officers discretion over whether to issue a warning, file a citation or make an arrest, etc. 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.