Florida Senate Takes a Modest Step Toward Drug Sentencing Reform

Post Date: March 27, 2014

Earlier this week the Florida senate passed a bill aimed at reducing the number of people subjected to mandatory minimums for prescription drug offenses. Under current Florida law, unlawful possession of at least four grams of either hydrocodone or oxycodone — two popular prescription painkillers — is enough for a trafficking charge and a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. SB 360, which the senate passed on Tuesday, raises the minimum quantity required to trigger a trafficking charge (and a three-year mandatory minimum) to 7 grams for oxycodone and 14 grams for hydrocodone.

Here are the new penalties juxtaposed with the old penalties, courtesy of the Florida Senate’s impact analysis:

  • Trafficking in 7 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, of oxycodone or 14 grams or more, but less that 28 grams, of hydrocodone: 3-year mandatory minimum term and $50,000 fine. (Current law: 3-year mandatory minimum term/$50,000 fine for trafficking in 4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, of oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
  • Trafficking in 14 grams or more, but less than 25 grams, of oxycodone, or 28 grams or more, but less than 50 grams, of hydrocodone: 7-year mandatory minimum term and $100,000 fine. (Current law: 15-year mandatory minimum term/$100,000 fine for trafficking in 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, of oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
  • Trafficking in 25 grams or more, but less than 100 grams, of oxycodone, or 50 grams or more, but less than 200 grams, of hydrocodone: 15-year mandatory minimum term and $500,000 fine. (Current law: 25-year mandatory minimum term/$500,000 fine for trafficking in 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
  • Trafficking in 200 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of oxycodone, or 100 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of hydrocodone: 25-year mandatory minimum term and $750,000 fine. (Current law: 25-year mandatory minimum term/$500,000 fine for trafficking in 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of oxycodone or hydrocodone.)

This legislation is estimated to save Florida $16 million over the next four years and “result in the need for 465 fewer prison beds.” Is this a huge change? A minuscule one? For context, we turn to a 2012 report from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability:

  • Four grams of hydrocodone is about seven 10-mg pills and 14 grams is 22 pills.
  • Four grams of oxycodone is about 31 30-mg pills, and 14 grams is roughly 108 pills. (Why the discrepancy between the two? Hydrocodone contains 325 to 750 milligrams of acetaminophen, which literally makes the pills heavier, which means you need fewer to trigger the charging/sentencing threshold.)
  • 50% of the people charged with hydrocodone trafficking were arrested for possessing or selling fewer than 30 pills and 25% were arrested for fewer than 15 pills. Meanwhile, oxycodone “traffickers” possessed or sold a median number of 91 pills (pretty much the largest scrip you can get from a single doctor visit).
  • 84% of these incarcerated offenders have never been convicted of a violent crime
  • 81% have no prior dealing or trafficking convictions
  • 74% have never been to prison
  • 65% have substance abuse issues
  • 61% were at low risk for recidivism 

These figures tell us that the average prescription pill “trafficker” is serving a mandatory minimum for illegally possessing or selling somewhere between a handful and a prescription’s worth of pills. This person has never been to prison before, is dependent on drugs (likely the ones they were found in possession of), doesn’t have a history of violence or dealing, and isn’t at risk for re-offending. If prisons are a place where we put dangerous people who might harm us, then what these numbers really tell us is that the average prescription pill trafficker should not be in prison at all, and certainly not subjected to a mandatory minimum. 

The Florida senate should be commended for taking a step away from mandatory minimums, even if it’s a small step. 

-Mike Riggs
Director of Communications
mriggs@famm.org

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