Editor’s note: This commentary is provided by the Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) of Florida A&M University.
While possession of marijuana is still a crime in Florida, getting caught with it does not necessarily lead to arrest and criminal prosecution in some cities and counties. Circumstances have a lot to do with how legal jurisdictions handle marijuana cases, with incarceration a likely avoidable outcome for many offenders caught with less than 20 grams.
As State Attorney Jack Campbell explains, the charge for marijuana possession ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the amount and what a person intends to do with it.
Mr. Campbell represents Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, a jurisdiction that encompasses six North Florida counties — Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla.
Law enforcement officers, he says, have discretion in determining how someone possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana is processed through the justice system.
An officer “can either arrest you or issue you what’s called ‘a notice to appear,’ which has the same legal effect, but you don’t go to jail. Or he can write a report called a pre-arrest diversion, where he would refer that case to our office. That way you don’t have a criminal arrest on your record,” says Mr. Campbell.
Of the thousands of legal cases his office handled last year, he says only 82 were for marijuana crimes, and…