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Florida lawmaker continues to pursue marijuana decriminalization

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando has once again filed legislation to end criminal penalties for possession of personal use amounts of marijuana. His House Bill 1203 defines the acceptable amounts as no more than 20 grams of marijuana or no more than 5 grams of concentrated cannabis extracts. This represents Smith's second attempt to designate possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil offense instead of a criminal one.

Proposed penalties for possession would involve modest fines and community service. Minors might have to complete a drug awareness program. Smith wants to expand marijuana decriminalization throughout the state. Tampa, Orlando, and several other jurisdictions have already moved to citations for possession instead of making it a crime.

Information from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicates that nearly 40,000 arrests in 2016 occurred because of marijuana offenses. Smith called throwing people in jail for smoking pot a waste of public resources. He wants his legislation to bring the state out of the "stone ages" in regard to marijuana use. A similar bill could soon be introduced in the state senate. Prior bills to decriminalize marijuana failed in the house and senate because committees delayed them from reaching a vote.

Until lawmakers pass reforms, a person arrested for marijuana possession might want legal representation before responding to drug possession charges. An attorney could take action to protect a person's rights by examining the circumstances of the arrest. An unlawful search and seizure, for example, might support an attorney's call to dismiss charges. In other situations, an attorney could negotiate a plea deal that allows participation in a drug diversion program to replace jail time.

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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