Drug possession and sale offenses in Florida can mean jail or prison time. Florida penalizes drug offenses primarily by drug type or classification (schedule) and whether the offense involves possession or sale of the drugs. Penalties range from short jail stints to decades behind bars.
Florida divides controlled substances into five "schedules" based on a drug's recognized medical uses and its likelihood for abuse and addiction. The most dangerous drugs that have no accepted medical uses are classified as schedule I drugs, whereas the least dangerous drugs fall under schedule V.
Below are examples of drugs in each schedule.
Certain drugs are available by prescription. Without a valid prescription, possession, purchase, or sale of controlled substances is illegal. As you can likely guess, the severity of criminal penalties reflects the dangerousness of the drug. (Fla. Stat. § 893.03 (2023).)
Most of Florida's drug crimes carry felony penalties. Only a few drug offenses are misdemeanors. Possessing or selling large amounts of certain drugs can land one with felony drug trafficking charges.
Below, we've divided Florida drug crimes and penalties by type of offense: possession offenses, purchase and sale offenses, and trafficking offenses. However, this article doesn't cover marijuana offenses. Check out Florida Marijuana Laws for cannabis-related offenses and penalties.
A person who unlawfully possesses a schedule V drug commits a misdemeanor in the second degree. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Illegal possession of most schedule I, II, III, and IV drugs carries third-degree felony penalties. A conviction can mean up to five years of prison time and a fine of up to $5,000.
A person found guilty of illegally possessing more than 10 grams of certain schedule I and II narcotics and opioids can face a first-degree felony. A conviction for a felony of the first degree carries up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Most convictions for illegally selling or purchasing a schedule I to IV drug carry felony penalties. Misdemeanor penalties apply when the illicit drug is a schedule V drug. A person who possesses the drug with intent to sell or buy faces the same penalties as if it were an actual sale or purchase (except for first-degree felony offenses, as noted below).
Some of the harshest penalties apply to those who sell or buy more than 10 grams of a schedule I narcotic or opioid. A first-degree felony carries up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. (Unlike the remaining drug and sale penalties, this penalty does not apply to possession with intent to buy or sell the drugs.)
A person commits a second-degree felony by illegally selling, purchasing, or possessing with intent to sell or purchase the following drugs:
Penalties for a second-degree felony include a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Most remaining drug sale and purchase offenses, including possession with intent to sell or buy, are considered felonies in the third degree. Drugs that fall under this category include:
A conviction can mean up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Selling, buying, or possessing schedule V drugs with intent to buy or sell them is a first-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine.
A person caught illegally possessing or selling large amounts of certain drugs can be charged with trafficking, rather than possession or sale crimes. The following are examples of threshold amounts that can lead to trafficking charges:
Drug trafficking offenses start as first-degree felonies that carry mandatory minimum sentences.
Florida imposes enhanced penalties for drug sale crimes committed on or near drug-free zones or drug sales that involve minors younger than 18.
Examples of drug-free zones include schools, colleges, universities, childcare facilities, community centers, parks, places of worship, public housing, and health care and treatment facilities.
Enhancements for sales involving minors apply when a person sells drugs to a minor, uses a minor to sell or deliver a drug, or uses the minor to help avoid apprehension.
For felony enhancements, Florida increases the penalty level by one degree. So, for example, selling LSD to a minor or on school grounds would result in a second-degree felony, rather than a third-degree felony.
If the offense is a misdemeanor drug sale involving a minor, the offense increases to a third-degree felony. A first-degree misdemeanor sale crime committed in or near a drug-free zone results in an additional $500 fine and 100 hours of community service.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 775.084, 893.13, 893.135 (2023).)
Certain individuals charged with lower-level drug offenses may be able to avoid a conviction by participating in a diversion program or drug court. Repeat offenders who can't benefit from these options might receive drug offender probation.
Persons charged with a misdemeanor or third-degree felony drug offense may qualify for a pretrial intervention program (also referred to as "diversion"). To be eligible, a person must be a first-time offender or have no more than one nonviolent misdemeanor conviction on record.
Pretrial diversion programs are similar to probation, and the participant must agree to certain terms and conditions, such as payment of fees, random drug testing, and completion of a drug treatment program. If successful, the charges are dismissed and the person avoids a conviction.
For individuals with two or more prior convictions, drug court may be an option. Persons charged with a third-degree felony drug crime may qualify for drug court if they:
Drug court is a highly intensive program supervised by a drug court team. A participant who fails to comply with the terms set by the team may face sanctions, such as placement in residential treatment or jail time. But a judge will dismiss the charges and expunge the record of a successful participant.
Florida law also creates a drug offender probation option for chronic offenders whose criminal activities stem from substance abuse. This program applies to those charged with a possession or purchase offense. Drug offender probation involves a drug treatment plan, along with intensive supervision by a probation officer and random drug testing. This option does not avoid a conviction.
(Fla. Stat §§ 948.08, 948.20 (2023).)
If you face drug charges in Florida, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Having a criminal record for a drug conviction, even a misdemeanor, can make it tough to get a job, housing, or loan in the future. Anyone who ends up with a felony sale or trafficking conviction may be disqualified from state employment and professional licensing on top of criminal penalties. Florida law makes it very difficult to get a conviction sealed or expunged, so talk to your lawyer about the immediate and long-term impacts of a drug conviction on record.