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Pending Legislation Could Be Answer To Florida's Mandatory Minimum Problem

As we speak, there is legislation pending before the Florida House and Senate that would create a "safety valve" for drug addicts charged with trafficking in prescription drugs who are subject to draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

The bill would permit judges to depart from the mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking charged and send offenders to treatment programs, such as Drug Court, instead of state prison.

The bill would permit this judicial departure if the substance in question is a prescription drug, the offender has no prior violent crimes in their past, the offender has a history of substance abuse, the offender did not possess a firearm during the commission of the crime, the offender was not engaged in the sale of the drugs, and the amount of the drugs indicate that they were for personal use.

An offender would get one departure in their lifetime. If arrested again, they would be subject to the mandatory minimums.

Mandatory minimums for prescription drug trafficking range from 3 to 25 years. As the trafficking statute in Florida is based on the weight of the drug, not the offender's intent, a few high milligram pills could easily equal trafficking weight. For instance, about 7 hydrocodone pills (Vicodin) equals 4 grams. 4 to 14 grams of hydrocodone will result in a 3-year mandatory sentence.

It's a step in the right direction. This will prevent drug addicts who are otherwise non-violent good people from being sent to prison for suffering from a disease.

In Florida, 85% of mandatory minimum drug offenders (those serving mandatory minimums for drug trafficking) have no record of a violent felony.

As an economic matter, it costs Florida almost $100 million per year to incarcerate mandatory minimum drug offenders. It's a whole lot cheaper (and far more humane) to treat drug addicts than it is to warehouse them.