Florida lawmaker wants to decriminalize small amounts of pot. Bill faces House fight.

State Rep. Shevrin Jones, of Broward County, wants a state commission to address deadly urban gun violence.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, of Broward County, wants a state commission to address deadly urban gun violence. Miami Herald

Citing a criminal justice system that disproportionately penalizes “communities of color ... by laws governing marijuana,” State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Florida.

His proposal, HB 25 Cannabis Offenses, specifies that a person in possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis and products containing 600 milligrams or less of THC — the compound that gives users the “high” — would face reduced penalties.

Currently, possession in these amounts is a first-degree misdemeanor and penalties could include a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Jones’ proposal, if passed in a January 2020 legislative session, would render the possession a noncriminal violation.

The bill also says that juveniles who are arrested for the first time for possession of this amount of marijuana “would be eligible for a civil citation program or pre-arrest diversion program.”

In a tweet Shevrin sent Monday, he said “making our communities equitable and safer starts with ensuring that people have a fair shot. Floridians need reform of cannabis laws, and we will make sure we end the injustice of overcriminalization.”

But the bill will face a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Jones, who plans a 2020 Senate run to replace term-limited Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, seemed unfazed.

“We must restore justice to our broken criminal justice system,” Jones said in a statement reported by Miami Herald news partner CBS4. “After being charged with possession, many Floridians feel the lasting impact as their student financial aid, employment opportunities, housing eligibility or immigration status are adversely affected.”

Jones is no stranger to debates on the floor.

In 2017, Jones joined other Democrats to criticize House Republicans’ “schools of hope” plan to attract new charter schools to Florida to serve students who attend perpetually failing traditional schools. He called the idea “a segregated system that will not fix the issue but will create deeper issues.”

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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