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Florida bill would forgive misdemeanor marijuana convictions

On Behalf of | Dec 30, 2020 | criminal defense

Florida residents who have been convicted of possessing or distributing less than 20 grams of marijuana will be able to expunge their records if a bill proposed by Sen. Randolph Bracy is passed and signed into law. On Dec. 12, Bracy announced in a press conference held outside a marijuana dispensary that he planned to introduce the bill when the legislature convenes for its 2021 session. Florida voters approved marijuana for medical use in 2016, but efforts to legalize the drug for recreational purposes have stalled.

Misdemeanor charges

The proposed bill will only apply to misdemeanor marijuana convictions, which Bracy thinks will be enough to attract supporters from both sides of the political aisle. However, advocacy groups hope that the bill will mark the first step on the road to full legalization and the expungement of all marijuana charges. While recreational marijuana remains illegal in Florida, several cities and counties allow police officers to issue citations rather than make arrests when they discover small quantities of the drug.

Federal impasse

Public opinion now seems to favor marijuana legalization. Voters in five states approved recreational marijuana ballot measures in November 2020, but the issue still divides Congress. The House of Representatives voted on Dec. 4 to approve a bill that would end the federal ban on marijuana, but the proposal is not expected to garner much support in the Senate.

Help with expungements

The proposed Florida bill will not expunge misdemeanor marijuana convictions automatically, but it would make it easier for people to remove drug charges from their records. Experienced criminal defense attorneys could explain that expungements are available when the law is changed or the case against a criminal defendant ends in a dismissal, an acquittal or the charges being dropped. In these situations, an attorney could request a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before petitioning the court for an expungement.