By: Julian Stroleny, Esq. a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida
Marijuana possession arrests in Miami-Dade County increased 116.9% between 2001 and 2010 despite voter approval of marijuana continuously increasing over the same span. Over 57% of the 2014 voters in Florida were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana but the constitutional amendment failed to meet the 60% threshold. As of today, four US states have legalized marijuana possession and countless others have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Floridians want a change in their marijuana laws and for good reason. Not taking into consideration the medical benefits of marijuana, the reality is the financial and social costs associated with enforcing marijuana prohibition are no longer justifiable in Miami-Dade where we have more pressing concerns.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Florida had the third highest arrests of any state for marijuana possession in 2010, totaling 57,951; and the country’s eleventh highest arrest rate for marijuana possession (308 arrests for every 100,000 people) in 2010.
Miami-Dade has a lot to do with those high numbers. Miami-Dade County was responsible for the ninth most arrests for marijuana possession of any county in the United States. What did we pay for such an impressive arrest rate? In 2010 over $228,635,840 was spent in Florida arresting citizens for marijuana possession.
There are also dangerous social consequences of prosecuting marijuana possession cases in Miami-Dade County. Research has shown that African Americans in Florida were arrested for marijuana possession at more than four times the rate of whites. African Americans accounted for more than 46% percent of marijuana possession arrests in Florida despite the fact African Americans don’t account for 46% of the population and nationally whites and African Americans use marijuana at comparable rates, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In Miami-Dade County, the statistics are even worse. In Miami-Dade County, African Americans were arrested at a nearly five-and-a-half times greater rate, higher than the state level.
The solution to this problem is simple and would not cost a penny. In fact, it would save tremendous amounts of money while at the same time allowing state prosecutors to dedicate their efforts to crimes involving victims and real social consequences. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office should adopt the policy that misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, those where the person is in possession of under 20 grams, will no longer be prosecuted. Any officer ignoring the policy and continuing to arrest citizens for misdemeanor marijuana possession would have their cases dismissed at the first appearance hearing, which is held in Miami-Dade County within twenty-four hours of arrest. This is a policy that could be implemented within a day of any announcement and would not cost the State or its citizens a penny. Marijuana possession prosecution has hurt our county and it’s time to make a change.