The legalization of medical marijuana in Florida has called into question some of the state’s other drug possession and distribution laws. But while Florida residents can no longer be charged with a crime by consuming legally-prescribed marijuana, those who consume non-prescription marijuana—or spice, opiates, amphetamines, or a wide range of other controlled substances—can still face stiff penalties.
Florida’s drug crime laws can be placed into two broad categories: possession and manufacture or distribution. In general, the penalties for possessing a controlled substance are less harsh than the penalties for growing or producing this substance or selling it to someone else.
“Bath salts” and “spice” were both recently added to the state’s list of controlled substances, joining hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, barbiturates, ecstasy, and amphetamines. Florida law also criminalizes the possession of most prescription drugs when possessed by someone other than the person to whom they were prescribed.
In part because the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal when recommended by a licensed physician, the simple possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor. Possession of other controlled substances is generally a felony.
Prosecutors will usually choose to elevate a simple possession charge to “possession with intent to sell” when a defendant is caught with a larger amount of drugs than would normally be kept for their personal use. In other cases, defendants who possess packaging materials and large amounts of cash, or whose text messages reveal communication with prospective customers, may be subject to this charge even if the amount of drugs in their possession is a relatively small one.
Drug manufacture can be a different offense entirely. Proving this claim will require prosecutors to show that an accused defendant purchased or possessed precursors to drug manufacture, illegally grew cannabis, or took other conscious steps to create a controlled substance, whether for personal use or with the intent to sell.
Often, a series of seemingly innocuous events (like purchasing large quantities of pseudoephedrine or certain farm chemicals), when taken together, can provide the probable cause needed for a search warrant. Any evidence seized pursuant to this warrant can then be used to support subsequent drug charges.
Marijuana possession (without a prescription and without the intent to sell) is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a 1-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000.
Other drug crimes can range from a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, to a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Third-degree felony drug crimes usually involve possession or possession of a relatively small amount with the intent to sell. Individuals caught with less than 28 grams (or around one ounce) of cocaine, less than 10 grams of MDMA or ecstasy, less than 1 gram of LSD, or up to 4 grams of heroin or other opiates may be subject to third-degree felony charges.
Meanwhile, those with more than 25 pounds of non-medical marijuana or more than the third-degree felony limits of other controlled substances may be charged with a first-degree felony. In the vast majority of cases, possession of this amount of drugs indicates an intent to sell and can be prosecuted as such.
In order to prove a defendant guilty of a crime involving a controlled substance, prosecutors must establish three factors beyond a reasonable doubt:
Without one of these three essential factors, the claim will fail. For instance, if you’re found in possession of a controlled substance but can show that you didn’t have knowledge of the substance (for example, if it was found in your vehicle after you lent it to a friend), you may not have the requisite knowledge for a conviction. By that same token, someone who is riding in a vehicle in which controlled substances are found but who had no control over the drug, even if they had knowledge of it, may not be found guilty.
While the penalties for drug crimes under Florida law can be severe, a conviction isn’t a given. There are several potential defenses that could be available, including:
Other defenses may be available depending on the specific facts of your case. An experienced defense attorney can work with you to determine which of these defenses are most viable and should be pursued.