TAMPA, Fla. - Last week, the U.S House of Representatives approved a bill that would take marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances, eliminating penalties for anyone caught with cannabis and setting up a process to expunge convictions.
While that legislation is unlikely to pass in the U.S. Senate, one state lawmaker in Florida is looking to take similar action.
People across the Sunshine State could see their misdemeanor marijuana convictions wiped away if a new bill becomes law.
“These convictions can follow a person when they apply for a job, when they try to get into the military, when they are trying to get an apartment,” explained FL Sen. Randolph Bracy, III (D-District 11).
He announced the proposed legislation this week, saying he will introduce it for the 2021 session.
“And that’s why I think a bill like this is important, to get it off of their record so they can move on with their lives,” Bracy said.
Current Florida law says possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and/or up to a $1,000 fine.
Bracy’s bill would create a pathway for clearing criminal records of low-level cannabis convictions. He says people are sitting in jail cells for small possession charges while the recreational and medical marijuana industries boom.
“Now we have a whole system where marijuana’s being sold legally and you don’t go back and address the people that had been incarcerated. I think it’s the right thing to do from the state’s, government’s perspective,” said Bracy.
Federal law still prohibits the possession of cannabis, but recreational and medical use is being legalized on the state level across the country.
Florida voters approved medical cannabis in 2016. Medical use is now legal in 34 other states and completely legal in 15 states plus Washington D.C.
Bracy says if his bill passes, he wants to continue to work on broader statewide marijuana reforms.
“I think there will be bipartisan support, so we can build on it in a future session,” Bracy said.
Earlier this year, Hillsborough County decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Similar ordinances are in place in Tampa and Sarasota, allowing a civil citation to be issued instead of the misdemeanor charge.