Major Florida Supreme Court Ruling Could Change Marijuana Laws

May 16, 2024 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

In April, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a proposed ballot amendment which would legalize marijuana use across the states would face a vote in the 2024 election. This means voters in Florida will have the chance to legalize the possession of up to 3 grams of marijuana for those over the age of 21. The amendment needs 60 percent public support to pass, and many groups are lobbying for and against the effort to make Florida the latest state to allow recreational marijuana use.

This page will detail the history of marijuana laws in Florida, as well as the potential implications of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision.

Marijuana in Florida

With increasing support for the legalization of marijuana nationwide, even states that have been traditionally hesitant to allow for its decriminalization are now taking steps in this direction. After Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana in 2014, nearly half of states have followed suit. A total of 24 states have enacted laws legalizing recreational marijuana, either through their state legislature or ballot initiatives.

Florida continues to classify marijuana as an illegal substance, and possession of the drug can carry severe penalties. Under state law, anyone in possession of under 20 grams of marijuana faces a first degree misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If found in possession of over 20 grams, this becomes a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

However, possession of even higher amounts of marijuana may trigger additional penalties. Possession of more than 25 pounds and up to 2,000 pounds of marijuana (or 300-2,000 plants) is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, as well as a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years.

If found in possession of between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds of marijuana (or 2,000-10,000 plants), this is a first-degree felony, with up to $50,000 in fines and 30 years in prison. This includes a mandatory minimum of 7 years.

In the event of possession of 10,000 pounds of cannabis or more, this is a first degree felony, with up to $200,000 in fines and 30 years in prison. Additionally, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

Marijuana also remains federally illegal for both recreational and medical use, though federal enforcement of marijuana laws has been inconsistent. With the Biden administration’s recent move to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule III drug, it appears the federal government is moving towards a more hands-off approach to the issue of marijuana regulation, instead allowing states to enforce their own laws. 

Notably, medical marijuana has been legal for those with a Medical ID card in Florida since 2017. The ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana in the state was approved by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent. Under Florida Statutes 381.986, qualifying conditions for a Florida Medical Marijuana card include:

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • AIDS
  • Positive status for HIV
  • PTSD
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ALS
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis

Only Floridians over the age of 18 qualify for a Medical ID card, unless they have a licensed caregiver.

Potential Changes in Florida’s Marijuana Laws

The latest amendment proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Florida, Amendment 3, was allowed on the ballot after a challenge before the Florida Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument from the Florida Attorney General’s Office that the decriminalization and sale of marijuana were two separate issues, and that one amendment allowing both was unconstitutional. As the amendment has now received the go-ahead from the state’s highest court, Floridians will vote on the issue when they vote in November’s general election. If passed, it would take effect 6 months after the election.

Important: The amendment only legalizes possession of marijuana if it is up to three grams, and five grams in a concentrated form. Those under 21 would also remain prohibited from possessing marijuana.

Though it is unclear whether the amendment will pass, polls that have been taken of Florida voters up to this point indicate marijuana legalization is popular among voters. A UNF poll found that about 70 percent of Florida voters intend to vote for Amendment 3, which would far exceed the 60 percent requirement the initiative needs to pass.

How Will This Impact Federal Law?

Since marijuana remains federally illegal, the legalization of marijuana in various states presents constitutional issues. In 2013, the Department of Justice issued the “Cole Memo,” which was intended to allow states to conduct their own regulation of marijuana-related offenses without significant federal intervention. However, this was rescinded in 2018.

If Florida legalizes recreational marijuana, this will not impact federal law, which has kept marijuana use of all types illegal and continues to do so. Marijuana also remains a Schedule I substance, which is subject to more stringent federal regulation than other drugs. If cannabis is successfully reclassified from Schedule I to Schedule III, this is likely to change.

But even now, federal prosecution of simple marijuana possession is extremely rare. In 2023, there were just 800 marijuana-related prosecutions by the federal government, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. 

Of those prosecutions, approximately 99 percent stemmed from drug trafficking, not simple possession. Thus, whether someone is charged for simple possession of marijuana largely depends on if that state has legalized it.

Contact a Defense Lawyer in Tallahassee, Florida

If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense in Leon County or the surrounding North Florida area, contact Don Pumphrey and the attorneys at Pumphrey Law to discuss the facts of your case. Given that recreational marijuana remains illegal in Florida, it is crucial to hire a knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney who can help you through this difficult process. Our aim is to get your charges lessened or dismissed so you can get your life back on the right track. Call (850) 681-7777 for a free consultation and take the first step towards freedom.

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