Pubdate: Tue, 01 Jul 2003
Source: Ledger, The (FL)
Copyright: 2003 The Ledger
Author: Stephen Heath


Re: "Florida a Leader . . . in Taking Voter Rights" (June 18)

Overlooked in Daryl Jones' and Robert Moore's excellent summary of the
irrational Florida restrictions against ex-felons are the harsh and
relentless sentences meted out to low-level drug offenders.

In the past 15 years, changes in sentencing laws make possession of just 21
grams of marijuana (about a pack of cigarettes) or almost any quantity of
cocaine, heroin and other illicit drug a felony conviction, even for
first-time possession cases. Thus a Floridian who is caught preferring pot
over booze as their drug of relaxation is now deemed on par with murderers,
assaulters, rapists and bigmoney thieves. In minority communities, where
crack cocaine offenses are more prevalent than the common powder cocaine --
and often misdemeanor -- cases found in white neighborhoods, even a portion
of a gram can result in a felony charge and a virtual permanent
disenfranchisement from civic participation.

At one time, a felony conviction was reserved for people we were truly
afraid of -- those who commit violence against persons and/or property. In
2003, this designation can be slapped on someone based merely on the drug
they might possess for personal use. Thousands of Floridians are annually
slotted in such a manner and they are no more a risk to the public than
former First Lady Betty Ford was when she acknowledged her addiction to
alcohol in the 1970s. It's time to amend the way we allow ex-felons to
re-assimilate into free society. If the legislators continue to ignore this
issue, they will likely see it forced onto the ballot via citizen initiative
in the fall of 2004.


Public Relations Director

Drug Policy Forum of Florida

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MAP posted-by: Josh