Florida Bill Would Fully Decriminalize Marijuana; Effectively Block Federal Prohibition

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2015) – Two bills introduced in the Florida legislature would remove cannabis from the state’s schedule of controlled substances, treating marijuana like any other plant under state law. The proposal would not only completely decriminalize marijuana in the Sunshine State, it would also take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in Florida.

Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) introduced Senate Bill 616 (SB616) on Oct. 21, and Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) filed a companion bill in the House (HB421) in September. The legislation differs from other marijuana-related reforms popping up in state legislatures across the country. Instead of creating a framework for decriminalization or a program to tax and regulate the marijuana, SB616 would simply erase cannabis from the criminal code entirely. If the bill passes, the state of Florida will treat marijuana in the same manner as lettuce, tomatoes, or any other benign plant sold and consumed lawfully in the marketplace.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of SB616 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While the Florida bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward blocking in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Florida legislature would essentially sweep away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

If the state legislature passes SB616, Florida would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically stopping the ban.

HB421 was assigned to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. SB616 has not yet been referred to a committee.