Will Florida’s Marijuana Laws Change in 2019?
Some believe that the broad support for medical marijuana would create momentum for legalization in the Sunshine State. But that trajectory is in doubt.
Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis says he supports legislation which would end a ban on smoking medical marijuana. Many see this law as the next step towards full legalization. But the House leadership opposes this drug law proposal, so it may never get off the ground. But there is a wildcard. Incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is a Democrat and a former marijuana lobbyist. Under her direction, the agency could pass rules which are more consistent with the medical marijuana law.
In 2016, over 70 percent of Florida voters backed the medical marijuana law.
Marijuana Laws and Procedures in Port St. Lucie County
Florida has an extremely limited medical marijuana law and some extremely harsh marijuana laws. Possession under 20 grams (about sixty joints) is a misdemeanor crime (one year in jail and a $1,000 fine). Additionally, if officers break up your party or find your stash, you could be charged with felony possession (maximum five years and $5,000 fine). These penalties apply between 20 grams and 25 pounds.
How do police officers get from individual joints to your stash? Officers could obtain a warrant to break up your party or look for your stash. But search warrants are time-consuming and expensive. They require lots of staff, and confidential informants rarely provide information for free.
So, in marijuana cases, officers generally rely on a search warrant exception. Some of the more common ones in these instances are:
- Exigent Circumstances: Assume two guys exchange angry words at your party, and a neighbor reports a “disturbance.” Responding officers probably have the right to search the entire house and grounds to make sure everyone is okay.
- Plain View: While they are poking around your house, officers may seize any contraband they find in plain view. Partial plain view cases, like a pistol handle protruding from under the bed, are in a gray area.
- Consent: Anyone with actual or apparent authority can allow officers to “have a look around,” whether or not they have probable cause. So, a homeowner, legal renter, or a roommate whose name is not on the lease could all give consent to search a home.
Other common search warrant exceptions include weapons pat-downs, some automobile searches, and limited searches after arrests.
Dealing with Marijuana Charges in Florida
The marijuana must be a useable amount. Officers often assume that all the pot in a joint is a “useable quantity.” But if some of the marijuana is burnt, that’s not the case. The useable quantity defense is especially applicable in borderline misdemeanor/felony possession cases.
Additionally, Port St. Lucie County prosecutors must establish possession beyond a reasonable doubt. Legal possession has three elements:
- Proximity: This element is usually straightforward and easy to prove. Under the law, anything within two or three arm’s lengths probably suffices.
- Knowledge: This element is a bit harder to establish. The prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant knew there was marijuana in the bag or box or whatever.
- Control: This one is really iffy. People in the back seat normally cannot possess something in the front seat, especially in a car full of people.
If these or other defenses apply, prosecutors often offer pretrial diversion. If the defendant pays a small fee and jumps through a few hoops, like taking a drug education class, the prosecutor dismisses the charges.
Rely on Experienced Lawyers
Recreational marijuana is illegal in Florida, and it looks like it may be illegal for a while. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A.