State of Cannabis: Florida Marijuana Is Not So Hot

CompassionateCare-01With all of the state legal marijuana ballot initiatives out there, 2016 is going to be a big year for cannabis.

As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. Today we round out our bottom-ten states with number 39: Florida. Our previous rankings are as follows: 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Criminal Penalties. Florida has some of the harshest criminal penalties for marijuana in the country. Even possession of a small amount, less than 20 grams, can earn you up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of an amount of over 20 grams, but less than 25 pounds can result in a 5-year prison sentence with a $5,000 fine. Delivery of 20 grams or less of marijuana not done in exchange for money earns a maximum 1-year prison sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine.

Possession or sale of larger amounts of marijuana warrant longer jail sentences and steep fines:

  • 25 pounds or less earns a maximum 5-year prison sentence and up to a $5,000 fine.
  • 25 to 2,000 pounds earns a mandatory minimum 3-year prison sentence, with a maximum sentence of 15 years and a fine up to a $25,000.
  • 2,000 to 10,000 pounds earns a mandatory minimum 7-year prison sentence, with a maximum sentence of 30 years and up to a $50,000 fine.
  • Over 10,0000 pounds earns a mandatory 15-year minimum prison sentence with a maximum sentence of at least 30 years and up to a $200,000 fine.

The sale or delivery of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, college, park, or other similar area is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and a potential $10,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana. In June 2014, the Florida legislature passed the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014” which only allows the cultivation and distribution of low-THC marijuana to qualified patients. The law is supposed to allow children with epilepsy or chronic seizures, or those with terminal illnesses, to use non-euphoric marijuana, but it has been largely ineffective as qualified patients have been unable to access their medicine due to multiple legal challenges and delays in implementing the program.

In November 2014, Florida voters had an opportunity to amend their Constitution by voting for “Amendment 2,” which would have given Florida a more comprehensive medical marijuana reboot through the passage of less restrictive MMJ laws. Fifty-eight percent of voters supported the amendment, but it failed to meet the 60 percent threshold required for amending the constitution. Our own Canna Law Attorney Hilary Bricken summarized the saga of Amendment 2 in an article written for Above the Law:

Florida’s Amendment 2 took a strange and rocky road to the ballot box the first time around. The Florida State attorney general filed a challenge to strike it down, alleging it misled the public about its true intent and effect. The Amendment 2 campaign had to go before Florida’s Supreme Court to keep Amendment 2 alive, which it did.

I am a licensed Florida attorney and I spent much time in the state with clients during the run-up to Amendment 2, and, in my opinion, what really set so many Florida voters against Amendment 2 was the proliferation of more fly-by-night pot colleges, airport seminars, and self-proclaimed “medical marijuana business lawyers” promising more endless riches than I have seen in any other state.

Florida also saw billionaire Sheldon Adelson pony up massive funds to fight against Amendment 2 through a well-funded group that claimed medical marijuana is the new “date-rape drug,” and that circulated a video of Amendment 2’s main financial backer and supporter, lawyer John Morgan, claiming that Morgan’s true intent was to completely legalize marijuana. In spite of all this, our firm advocated in favor of Amendment 2.

Florida’s legalization fight has so far been unsuccessful, but it is not over yet.

Future Legalization. Many believe 2016 will be the year Florida finally gets workable medical marijuana laws. United for Care refined Amendment 2 in a new ballot initiative entitled “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Conditions,” and Florida voters will have another opportunity to vote on it this November. According to the Orlando Sentinel, 65 percent of Florida voters would support the medical marijuana initiative while only 28 percent would oppose it. Support comes from politically diverse groups with 75 percent of Democrats,  70 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Republicans supporting the medical marijuana initiative.

The new amendment would charge Florida’s Department of Health with overseeing the new medical marijuana program. A “qualifying patient” would receive a physician certification and a valid qualifying patient identification card after being diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition,” which conditions include “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

Qualifying patients would receive marijuana from “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers” (MMTC). The MMTCs would grow, process, and distribute all medical marijuana and would be registered with and governed by the Department of Health. The new amendment also requires the Department of Health to promulgate “reasonable regulations necessary for the implementation and enforcement” within six months of the effective date of the law.

Bottomline. There is reason to be hopeful about cannabis reform in Florida. But, as of now, Florida lacks workable medical marijuana laws and Florida cannabis patients are either forced to go without their medicine or risk brutal criminal penalties by turning to the black market. Unless and until Florida actually passes and puts into operation serious cannabis laws, marijuana users should probably avoid the Sunshine State.

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Advocacy, Florida