Florida Cops Choosing to Ruin Lives Over Cannabis

The state of Florida has had a relatively comprehensive medical marijuana program in place since 2016 and the common consensus is that the Sunshine State will have a measure on the 2020 ballot giving voters the opportunity to legalize cannabis use and sales for recreational purposes as well.

A recent poll showed that 62% of voters are in favor of such reform.

Aside from their somewhat shaky MMJ program, 60 counties across the state – including Miami-Dade and Broward – have adopted some form of decriminalization when it comes to possession of small amounts of weed.

Under these programs, law enforcement officers have the option to issue citations and/or fines for such low level offenses instead of automatically making an arrest every time they find a few buds.

The fact is, the vast majority of misdemeanor cannabis cases get dropped in Florida. But even with the threat of jail time gone, and the costs of dealing with such an inconvenience aside, that “drug”-related arrest will stay on a person’s criminal record forever. Anytime they need to apply for a loan, or a job, or housing they could potentially be asked about their record and even something as minor as a past pot arrest could impact those opportunities.

Further, if they ever have another run-in with the law, the next officer will surely hold that record against them, case dismissed or not.

On the flip side of the coin, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that it costs a community nearly $1500 more to arrest someone for low-level cannabis possession than the community would bring in if the offender was fined. The costs of evidence storage, prisoner storage, and court appearances can quite literally bankrupt a town.

The societal benefit of cannabis decriminalization is a no-brainer… but apparently the cops didn’t get the memo.

In 2017 alone 42,153 people were arrested in Florida on misdemeanor marijuana charges, a 6% RAISE over the previous year despite the state’s (and the nation’s) powerful push towards legalization.

In Miami Beach, for example, the local cops are allowed to issue fines instead of making arrests but you can literally count on one hand how many tickets they’ve written for weed in 2018… three total so far.

They’ve only written 33 weed-related tickets total in the past 18 months.

To put it into perspective, they made 40 misdemeanor cannabis arrests in one weekend this past May.

In Miami proper, it’s even worse.

In the past three years alone, the Miami Police Department has made 5,255 arrests for misdemeanor cannabis possession of 20 grams or less. The vast majority of those cases could have been solved on the spot with a simple ticket (or just leave us the fuck alone) but these arrests have been on the rise in Florida ever since various forms of legalization have taken root.

You know what they say about cornered rats and it seems that the cops in Florida are trying to snag those easy cannabis arrest cheese scraps while they still can.

The Miami New Times randomly selected 50 of the 5,000+ case files for review and what they found was disturbing, but unfortunately far from surprising.

Of the 50 cases reviewed, just one resulted in a conviction. Charges were completely dropped by the prosecution in 41 cases and adjudication was withheld in eight of them.

But of those 50 random cases from Miami’s crime records, forty people of color were arrested while only ten where white.

It would be bad enough if this stat was some sort of outlier specific to Miami, but the numbers are right in line with the rest of Florida where even though black folks make up just 17% of the overall population, they are charged with over half of the state’s cannabis crimes. This means that even though all races use cannabis in relatively equal amounts, you are 4x as likely be arrested for it in Florida if you are black.

One unlikely outspoken advocate for legal cannabis reform in Florida is the recently retired sheriff of Flagler County, Jim Manfre, who is quoted saying, “I think we need to consider whether the penalty fits the crime that was committed. Arresting people for marijuana is stupid, wasteful, and ineffective. It's a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of law enforcement resources, and ultimately, it's not making the community any safer."

Manfre is right, but as usual, decriminalizing cannabis falls far short of anything resembling real reform.

Besides the fact that it always fails to protect, or even consider, the supply side of the equation (growers, extractors, sellers, etc.), as we see across Florida, when given a choice jackbooted local law enforcement usually has no interest in any “benefit to society” that prevents them from easy weed busts of low-level consumers to pad their quotas.

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