It's too late for reggae star Buju Banton, but bills filed in the legislature this week would eliminate mandatory prison sentences for trafficking in marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other substances. Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Ari Porth, a Democrat from Coral Springs, sponsored the legislation. Banton was sentenced in Tampa on Tuesday to a minimum of 15 years in prison for, among other things, conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Under current law, possession of large amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin is considered trafficking and carries fines as well as minimum prison sentences ranging from three to 25 years. Changes suggested by Bogdanoff and Porth would eliminate the prison time and leave in place fines ranging from $25,000 to $500,000.
Their bills also would require the Department of Corrections to implement prison-based substance abuse, educational and vocational programs for non violent offenders to help them reintegrate into the community when they get out of prison.
Some prison reform experts have recommended both concepts as a way to trim the prison budget by keeping people from entering the system in the first place and coming back once they get out.
-- Janet Zink