House ready to vote on new drug overdose law

The House took up a sweeping bill Tuesday that would revamp Florida’s drug laws.

Primarily, the bill (HB 95) would broaden a prosecutor’s ability to pursue a first-degree murder charge if a drug overdose leads to a person’s death.

Under current law, a drug dealer may face the death penalty — or life in prison — if they sell a controlled substance that verifiably caused the death of a consumer.

Prosecutors, however, often struggle with cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.

Sponsored by Longwood Republican Sen. Scott Plakon, the bill would allow authorities to levy a life sentence if a controlled substance is instead considered a “substantial factor” in a person’s death.

“In each of these tragedies, a drug dealer has made a profit off the pain of Florida families,” Plakon told members.

Plakon’s proposal contains a slew of other provisions.

The bill calls for drug dealers to face stiffer punishments if they’re caught selling a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of an abuse treatment center.

Critics on Tuesday lamented the preferred buffer zone as arbitrary. They further asserted the buffer may be too large in densely populated areas.

Plakon said he is unwilling to request a shorter radius, as suggested by Democratic lawmakers.

“No one is forcing them to deal death to our citizens,” Plakon added.

The bill also would add methamphetamine to the list of prosecutable controlled substances. In 2020, officials recorded 1,273 methamphetamine overdose deaths in Florida.

Plakon said the bill aims to “clarify” and “modernize” state law.

“By this time tomorrow, more than a dozen Floridians will die as a result of a drug overdose,” Plakon said.

Throughout the committee process, the measure faced stiff opposition from activists and criminal justice reform groups, including the ACLU of Florida and the NAACP Florida State Conference.

The collective, among other arguments, warned the proposal will likely increase the amount of death penalty cases and appeals at a time when public opinion around the issue is mixed.

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