During the past few years, there has been a massive push to reform drug legislation in this country. There is a feeling that many drug crimes are victimless and that the focus should be on rehabilitation and treatment instead of punishment. Many legislators believe that drug addiction and drug crimes should be treated more like alcoholism. Recently, a bill that passed the Florida Senate showed that real change is coming. This past week, the Florinda Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that granted far more discretion to judges when they hand down sentences on convictions related to drug crimes, particularly for first-time offenders. The bill was sponsored by the senator from Fleming Island and exemplified the push to reverse the “tough on crime” legislation that toughened the punishments for drug convictions back in the 1990s. The bill sailed through numerous committees and was passed without debate 39 to 1.
According to the numerous proponents of the bill, the legislation is simply the right thing to do. Instead of just incarcerating drug offenders and making the local taxpayers foot the bill, the focus should be on rehabilitation. Furthermore, the lawmakers believe that this bill is going to save the state $50 million. The bill is expected to free close to 5,000 people who are currently incarcerated.
It is important to note that many states still have the “tough on crime” laws in effect from the 1990s. This includes the state of Minnesota. According to Keller Law Offices, “A Minnesota drug crime charge involves any allegation of possessing, manufacturing, and trafficking, buying, selling, or distributing an illegal controlled substance.” Clearly, this wording gives law enforcement officers a tremendous amount of discretion. Whether the substance is marijuana, cocaine, or heroin, all of this can lead to a drug charge. Even a conviction on a fifth-degree drug possession charge can result in up to five years in prison. The recent passage of reform in Florida is the latest example of government trying to reverse these laws to get people the help they deserve.
In the state of Florida, spending on incarceration has increased by more than 60 percent during the past decade. Now, the state spends close to $2.5 billion per year on incarceration. The only two categories that receive more funding from the state of Florida are healthcare and education. According to lawmakers in the state, this is a travesty. Even the Florida Prosecutors Association endorsed that change is long overdue.
It remains to be seen whether or not other states will follow Florida’s lead and introduce reform when it comes to the definition and sentencing of drug crimes. The focus needs to be on the rehabilitation of people who suffer from drug addiction. This is one great way to accomplish this task. Anyone who has been charged with a drug crime should make sure their rights are defended.