By Jason Delgado
January 16, 2022
‘We are not arresting kingpins here.’
Democratic lawmakers want to legalize marijuana, and they’re urging Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature to do it now.
Thus far, Democrats have proposed at least 10 marijuana-related bills in the 2022 Legislative Session. At least one measure would outright legalize marijuana (HB 467), while another would decriminalize the drug and other addictive substances.
All will face an uphill battle in Tallahassee.
“A bill legalizing marijuana has never been heard in the Florida House,” Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson said at a Thursday news conference. “That needs to change this year. States are legalizing cannabis all over the nation, and Florida is falling behind.”
States including New York, Virginia and New Mexico legalized recreational marijuana in 2021 via voter initiatives. Meanwhile, three states — Arizona, Montana and New Jersey — OK’d recreational marijuana use in 2020 via legislation.
A 2019 bipartisan poll by the University of North Florida shows 64% of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana for adult consumption.
“The Florida Legislature has issues with regard to listening to the will of the people,” said Democratic Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Windermere.
Hinson and Thompson stood alongside several Democratic lawmakers and activists at a news conference Thursday, making their case for the legalization of marijuana.
Together, they argued the prohibition is harming Floridians, particularly minorities. In 2018, 42,000 people were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession; more than half were Black, Hinson said.
“We are not arresting kingpins here,” she said. “We’re arresting small-scale users and ruining their lives.”
Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph, meanwhile, argued decriminalization would free up state resources and alleviate overcrowding in state prisons.
Under her proposal (HB 725), all “addictive drugs” would be decriminalized. Instead of jail time, a person possessing an addicting drug — including marijuana — would face a noncriminal $50 fine.
The bill, additionally, would compel the Florida Department of Health to study effective drug treatment methods and grant clemency to those incarcerated for marijuana possession.
“This bill mitigates the impact of the war on drugs, where addicts are basically thrown away and locked up,” Joseph said.
All attendees, including Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, highlighted how a drug conviction could limit opportunities and burden livelihoods.
Legalization, they said, would create opportunities for reinvestment.
“There are already so many great models in states across America,” the Orlando lawmaker said. “Take this revenue and reinvest it in communities, especially in those communities who have been most dramatically negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.”