The marijuana legalization movement in the state of Florida continues to gain momentum as evidenced by the recent decriminalization of cannabis possession in West Palm Beach as of September, 2015. This is a clear demonstration that Florida lawmakers are steadily gravitating towards statewide legalization, as is expected to happen by the end of 2016. Despite the Florida Right to Marijuana Initiative (previously referred to as Amendment 2) not being passed two years ago by a narrow margin, last year’s 58% approval rate was enough to alert state officials of the inevitability of marijuana legalization.
Last summer, the city commission of West Palm Beach voted unanimously on this issue. From now on, adults who are found in possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis will likely receive a $100 fine, as opposed to being taken to prison. In addition, minors who get caught with cannabis stand to be detained before being given the option of entering the First Offender Program. Once they are through with the program, their fingerprint records will be discarded and their criminal record erased.
City officials contend that the motive behind this decision is to drastically cut down on the number of arrests linked to possession of small amounts of marijuana. Since the aftermath of an arrest for cannabis possession can be a long and costly process, city officials felt that by decriminalizing marijuana, they would spare otherwise law-abiding citizens from such unfortunate situations.
Needless to say, the momentum that marijuana has gained across the nation is significantly influencing other states in their decision to legalize. Currently, Democratic Florida Representative Michelle Vasilinda of House District 9 is sponsoring HB 4021- a House Bill that seeks to remove marijuana from the controlled substances schedule. At present, cannabis is a schedule 2 drug and Representative Michelle is aiming to remove any classification of marijuana as a controlled substance.
Profit motive behind the new laws in West Palm Beach
For states looking to increase their tax revenues, the cannabis industry is, undoubtedly, a profitable solution. With reference to marijuana, the state of Colorado, for instance, established a 15% marijuana excise tax, a 10% retail marijuanasales tax, and a 2.9% retail sales tax on marijuana businesses at the end of which the state reported $12.8 million dollars of tax revenue for the month of July 2015. This was a staggering 73% more than was reported for July of 2014. ($7.4 million).
Since June 2015, several countries and cities in Florida have taken cannabis policy into their own hands by legislating ordinances designed to reduce the chances that cannabis users will be arrested and jailed. These advancements, which impose civil penalties for minor cannabis offenses, can prevent cannabis consumers from the trauma that accompanies arrest and the damage that is the “scarlet letter” denoting a criminal offense. They also enable law enforcement resources to be allocated to other areas where they are really needed such as crimes that endanger the general public.
Unfortunately, despite broad support from the Florida electorate, state law remains largely unchanged leaving those caught in cannabis possession at risk of arrest and incarceration. Under Florida state law, cannabis possession is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by a $1000 fine and up to one year in jail.