Civil Liberties

Another "Drug Treatment" Horror Story From Florida


Yesterday we told you about a Florida stock broker and grad student who practically had his life ruined after being caught with a single Oxycontin pill. The man was forced to report his no contest plea for possession to his employer, who fired him. For the next year, he was forced to attend two Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week and 15 weekend-long state-run drug courses (even though he had never taken Oxycontin), and was given a curfew that made it difficult for him to work decent at hours at his new job (being a short order cook). 

That story caught the attention of another Florida man who had his life turned upside down by Florida's insane drug laws. He emailed us the following: 

I was pulled over for having a dimly lit tag and asked to consent to a search before the officers even ran my license. When I refused consent, they kept me on the side of the road in the middle of the night and questioned me for over an hour before finally arresting me for a DUI after I refused to consent to a roadside urine test. They then took an "inventory" of my car and found a small quantity of LSD. [roughly 25 doses.]

So now a few months later I am in the thick of state supervision. Faced with an inordinate mandatory minimum my best bet was to agree to any program I could get into. 

I immediately lost my job as a substitute school teacher and exhausted the savings I was using to pursue a degree in chemistry. Replacement work has not been easy to find and those third party [background check] groups make sure my mug shot is near the top of any google queries for my name. 

LSD use is hardly the epidemic that prescription pills supposedly are, so why was our emailer facing "an inordinate mandatory minimum"? Because of the ridiculous way Florida measures drugs. 

One gram of LSD crystal can yield roughly 10,000 doses. Our emailer had 50 tabs of actual LSD crystal, or roughly 4-5 miligrams. But Florida doesn't weight the amount of LSD crystal, or the active ingredient in any illicit drug. Instead, they weigh whatever the drug is on or in: 

For the purpose of clarifying legislative intent regarding the weighing of a mixture containing a controlled substance described in this section, the weight of the controlled substance is the total weight of the mixture, including the controlled substance and any other substance in the mixture. If there is more than one mixture containing the same controlled substance, the weight of the controlled substance is calculated by aggregating the total weight of each mixture.

In our emailer's case, police weighed the 50 paper tabs he had, and also the vial in which the tabs were contained. So instead of having 4 miligrams of LSD–which would have been a low-level possession charge–he had 31 grams. The threshold for a mandatory minimum LSD trafficking charge is one gram. Seven grams or more, meanwhile, gets you a minimum of 15 years in prison. 

Faced with spending the next decade and a half in jail for possessing a recreational amount of a relatively harmless hallucinogenic drug, our emailer spent most of his savings on an attorney who helped him get into drug treatment, and is now spending what he has left on rehab for a drug that he's not addicted to. 

I again reached out to Greg Newburn of the Florida chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums for more context on how Florida measures drugs. He gave me an example about cocaine that's pretty shocking.

"Under that language, if you hand me a 12 ounce can of Coke, but just before you hand it to me you mix 1 gram of cocaine into the liquid, then you call the cops and tell them I'm drinking cocaine-laced Coca-Cola, I face a 7-year mandatory minimum for 'trafficking in cocaine' (more than 200 grams but less than 400 grams)," Newburn writes.

"And since Florida removed the mens rea requirement, the state doesn't even need to prove I knew the cocaine was in the can. I can present my lack of knowledge as an affirmative defense, but the jury instructions permit a jury to presume the defendant had knowledge of the illegal substance based solely on the possession."

I can only imagine how many other recreational users in Florida are wasting time and money on rehab, having their career prospects ruined, all because their only other option is a ridiculous mandatory minimum.