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With over 22 million Americans reporting recent use of marijuana, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, this drug has become the most popular illicit drug in the United States.
While other states have passed laws legalizing the use of cannabis, Florida voters opposed an amendment to allow the medical use of marijuana for chronically ill or disabled citizens in 2014. Among the opponents of legalization was the Florida Sheriff’s Association, which claimed that the proposed legislation would lead to an increase in crime and that medical marijuana dispensaries would not be able to control use of cannabis for recreational reasons. As it stands, the law in Florida imposes strict penalties for the possession, sale, or use of marijuana, including fines, imprisonment, and suspension of the individual’s driver’s license for one year.
Possession refers to having a drug on one’s person or property, either for personal use, sale, or distribution. According to the 2015 Florida Statutes, individuals convicted of possessing 20 grams or less of cannabis will be charged with a misdemeanor and may be punished with up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of more than 20 grams to 25 pounds is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Florida residents caught with 25 pounds to less than 2,000 pounds of marijuana in their possession will be charged with a felony, and they can be punished with 3-15 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.
Growing marijuana plants in Florida is also illegal. The possession of less than 25 plants is a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of as much as $5,000. Penalties for growing marijuana increase to a maximum fine of $50,000 for growing 2,000-10,000 plants, with possible incarceration of 7- 30 years.
The possession or sale of the paraphernalia used to consume marijuana or make marijuana
products, such as pipes, bongs, or vaporizers, is a misdemeanor, as well, which can be
punished by one year of imprisonment and a fine of $1,000.
The penalties for selling marijuana are more severe than the penalties for possession. Attempting to sell 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in prison. Selling 25 pounds or less is a felony that can earn the perpetrator up to five years of incarceration and a fine of up to $5,000. Attempting to sell between 25 and 2,000 pounds of marijuana is a felony punishable by 3-15 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Having 10,000 pounds of marijuana or more is a felony that can be punished by up to 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $200,000.
Hashish, or hash, is a concentrated form of marijuana made from the resin of the plant. In Florida, these potent concentrates are classified as Schedule I narcotics. The possession, manufacture, or sale of hash and similar marijuana concentrates are classified as third-degree felonies with penalties of up to five years in prison and maximum fines of $5,000.
The abuse of marijuana, and the approval of marijuana use, has become increasingly widespread among America’s youth. To reduce the health risks of cannabis use among children, teens, and young adults, Florida has established even stricter laws against the sale of marijuana near a daycare center, school, college, or park. The sale or delivery of marijuana in these locations is a felony punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000.
The debate over the legalization of marijuana in Florida is not over. Although the state legislature did not pass Senate Bill 528, known as the Florida Medical Marijuana Act, which would have given seriously ill citizens access to marijuana for medical purposes, individuals and groups that support legalization are making plans to put the bill back on the ballot in the November 2016 election. Meanwhile, some local governments in the Sunshine State are attempting to eliminate arrest and imprisonment for the possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, replacing arrest with less severe civil penalties.
With marijuana laws becoming more lenient in other areas of the country, and the demand for legal medical marijuana growing, Florida voters on both sides of this issue will be debating legalization for many months to come.