Largely because of its geography, Florida has long been a favored location of international drug trafficking organizations. The state gained significant national attention in the 1980s after it became an outpost for cocaine distribution rings based in Central and South America.
When those groups waned, Mexican cartels stepped into the forefront. In recent years, the cartels have set up drug trafficking networks throughout the state.
Earlier this year, state and federal investigators captured members a Mexican marijuana distribution organization that was operating out of central Florida. At the time of the bust, law enforcement officers sized 90 firearms and more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana. It is estimated that the ring was generating millions of dollars in income.
Prosecutors say the marijuana was brought from Mexico to McAllen, Texas. It was then shipped to Panama City, where it was broken into smaller parcels and sent out to Jacksonville and Central Florida for distribution.
Nine members of the ring were arrested during the raid. They performed various roles in the organization, including organizers, truck drivers, deliverymen and off-loaders, according to authorities.
Florida and Federal Marijuana Penalties
Even though marijuana has gained a reputation as a "soft drug," crimes involving the drug are still punished very strictly. This is especially true in crimes involving large-scale trafficking organizations or interstate drug distribution.
Under federal law, a first offense for trafficking more than 1,000 kilograms - about 2,200 pounds - of marijuana carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison. The penalties are even higher if someone suffers death or serious injury in the course of the drug trafficking.
Trafficking in smaller quantities still carries stiff consequences. A first offense for distributing less than 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by up to five years in federal prison.
While the federal government generally prosecutes drug crimes involving interstate distribution, the sale of marijuana is also punishable as a state crime. Generally speaking, Florida marijuana penalties are significant, but less strict than those imposed under federal law. For example, the sale of 2,000 to 10,000 pounds of marijuana is punishable by between seven and 30 years in state prison.
Florida residents should not make the mistake of assuming that only large-scale drug traffickers will be punished. The sale or possession of anything greater than 20 grams of marijuana is a state felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
If you are charged with a state or federal drug crime, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights.