Possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana would no longer be a criminal offense in Florida if a proposed 2020 bill is adopted by state lawmakers when they convene in January.
House Bill 25 was pre-filed Monday by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, as part of the Legislature’s on-going effort to trim the state’s $2.7 billion courts-corrections budget.
“We must restore justice to our broken criminal justice system,” Jones said in a statement announcing that he had pre-filed the bill. “For far too long, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana, and we must end this injustice once and for all.”
Right now, possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana is a first degree misdemeanor in Florida with penalties that can include up to a year in jail, probation, driver’s license revocation and fines of up to $ 1,000.
According to the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization (NORML), Florida has some of the most punitive penalties in the nation for possession of small amounts of marijuana that have either been “decriminalized” in more than two dozen states and is now legal in another dozen.
“After being charged with possession, many Floridians feel the lasting financial impact as their student financial aid, employment opportunities, housing eligibility, or immigration status are adversely affected,” Jones said. “When we take away the foundational components of security, we’re capping people’s potential in life. That’s why I’m proud to introduce legislation to fix this problem. By tackling this issue, we can make our communities more equitable and safer.”
HB 25 would also provide that juveniles arrested for possession of cannabis/THC products would be eligible for a civil citation or pre-arrest diversion programs.
Jones’ proposal does not address if those found in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana would face civil citations or fines.
HB 25 is among six House and 45 Senate bills that have been pre-filed since Aug. 1 for the 2020 legislative session, which begins begins Jan. 14. Committees will begin meeting in September in advance of the 60-day session.
“Happy to introduce my first bill of the 2020 legislative session!” Jones later tweeted. “Making our communities equitable and safer starts with ensuring that people have a fair shot. Floridians need reform of cannabis laws, and we will make sure we end the injustice of over-criminalization.”
While Jones’ bill seeks to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, there are two petition drive campaigns underway seeking to place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters in November 2020 to fully legalize recreational marijuana use by adults.
Sensible Florida’s proposed constitutional amendment to regulate recreational marijuana like alcohol for adults has been registered with the state’s Division of Elections (DOE) since March 2016.
As of Monday, Sensible Florida had collected 79,735 signatures, enough to qualify for a preliminary state Supreme Court review, but far below the 766,320 signatures of vetted, registered voters required by Feb. 1, 2020.
A second group registered with the DOE on Friday and plans to begin its own petition drive to get a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana before voters.
Make It Legal Florida, Inc., is chaired by Nick Hansen, the Southeastern Director of Government Affairs for MedMen, a Los Angeles-based medical cannabis chain, and a former adviser to criminal justice reform adherent Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
Both efforts must contend with a new petition-gathering law adopted by legislators this year.
The new law essentially extends the state’s voter registration system to petition-gathering, requiring every citizen initiative organization sponsoring a signature-drive to have its own numbered, serialized petition provided by county elections offices.
It requires petition-gatherers to register with the state and have a permanent Florida address, effectively barring out-of-state entities from ballot campaigns. The bill prohibits signature gatherers from being paid on a per-petition basis.
Petition-gatherers now say they’ll need at least 1.1 million signatures to ensure 766,320 are verified. Groups will need to finish collecting signatures by Jan. 1 to give elections supervisors the required 30 days to verify them before Feb. 1.