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Saturday, April 20, 2024

We weren't surprised by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's candid admission that he smoked pot long before he became a public figure - that seems to be the political norm since the whole "I did not inhale" debacle.

However, we were a little confused when he revealed an inflexible stance on drug law reforms in Florida during a press conference last Saturday.

Basically, Charlie thinks everything is just fine the way it is.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

At current levels, the state prison system costs taxpayers an astounding $1.4 billion each year.

And state officials estimate Florida's prisons will inflate to 100,000 inmates by this year's end alone.

So, with the almost-certain economic crisis before us and the expected budget shortfalls to come, you would think he would be trying to do whatever he could to conserve resources and make any state-funded system more efficient with innovative ideas.

Apparently, you would be wrong.

It seems that Crist is satisfied with the status quo.

By keeping the drug penalties the way they are, the governor is continuing to protect public safety as his No. 1 priority.

While we agree that it's important to make sure Florida's streets are safe, we don't think it's as simple as "locking up bad people," as Crist said during the press conference, according to The Miami Herald.

Maybe he missed the fact that 20 percent of those incarcerated are non-violent drug offenders.

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Many of these offenders were employed and otherwise law-abiding members of society - not necessarily the "bad people" the state needs to punish.

The governor admitted to using illegal drugs in the past and yet doesn't seem to recognize the inherent hypocrisy of his admission.

It's no secret that the current laws in place are doing little to deter people from using drugs.

But with Florida's 8,000-plus miles of coastline, it is unreasonable to expect law enforcement to turn a blind eye to the seemingly unlimited access and opportunities for drug trafficking.

We don't advocate decriminalizing certain drugs, but throwing offenders into a cell and letting them wait out their time does not stop them from donning a jumpsuit for the second or third time.

If each prisoner costs more than $19,000 a year to incarcerate, according to the Herald, then at the current pace, Florida will have to build two prisons a year through 2013 to keep up. The red flags have been raised.

In other words, if the state incarcerates roughly 20,000 nonviolent drug offenders a year, the bill comes to the state for $380 million.

Both legislative chambers are considering measures that would funnel some inmates into work-release programs or reduce their sentences and establish a commission to review mandatory-minimum sentencing.

At least they recognize there is something that must be done about the problem.

State Sen. Victor Crist, a Republican from Tampa with no relation to the governor, contended that the state's drug laws are based on outdated thinking and advocates placing drug offenders into rehabilitation programs rather than a prison cell.

Although there is no guarantee that rehabilitation is the magic key to solving the state's problems with drug offenses, we are hoping the governor realizes that something must be done.

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