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UPDATED: Leon County Commissioners discuss possible marijuana ordinance

Posted at 7:31 PM, Mar 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-21 22:18:24-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — UPDATE: 9:30 p.m. Leon County Commissioners ultimately voted to accept the report on alternatives to incarceration for the possession of small amounts of marijuana and take no further action. While a motion was made to direct staff to draft a proposed ordinance providing law enforcement the discretion to issue a civil penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the idea did not have enough support to advance.

Near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Rick Minor moved to add to the Florida legislative agenda for Leon County the legalization of marijuana at the state level.

That idea passed unanimously.

The topic of marijuana legalization is a controversial one, with recreational use legal in 21 states, D.C. and Guam but is still federally illegal. Only medicinal use is legalized in Florida.

Leon County has seen a drastic reduction in misdemeanor marijuana cases since 2018, down over 650 cases in 2022.

Now, County Commissioners are discussing decriminalizing minor possession of marijuana and alternatives to incarceration for possession of small amounts of marijuana, with analysis showing the benefits of alternative options.

People believe allowing possession of small amounts of marijuana to be a civil charge has many benefits for the community, but state and federal laws could be an issue.

"Criminalizing someone for small amounts marijuana has cost many civilians, many people like me, many people of color," said Warren Cave.

Cave has been charged for marijuana possession in the past. He said the experience is difficult for anyone, but especially minors.

"A $10 bag of weed and you're caught with a bag of weed and now you have a charge and just imagine for the kids that are not grown, now you have to go through the court system and it's going to follow you a lot of times."

A new proposal in Leon County could change that. The Leon County Democratic Party is asking County Commissioners to lessen the offense for someone found in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana.

Instead of being charged with a misdemeanor or felony and serving a year in prison, law enforcement would have the discretion to give out a civil citation.

"With a citation charge, now you're able to go to college, go to the army, go to the navy, go somewhere and get employed without it being a hindrance about you having a felony," said Cave.

Right now, any possession or use of marijuana is illegal under federal law. In Florida, marijuana possession and use are legal for medical use only. However, several communities across the state have adopted local ordinances that would give civil penalties instead of criminal ones for possession of small amounts.

According to the ACLU, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Chair of the Leon County Democratic Party Ryan Ray said having an ordinance like this could help address racial disparities, free up law enforcement and the court system, and give more freedom to residents.

"It's a policy that creates frankly more freedom and more latitude for both law enforcement and everyday people across the county, so we're excited about that," said Ray.

Although County Commissioner David O'Keefe is supporting the proposal, he is concerned whether it'll come to fruition or not.

"No matter what we do because of state and federal laws, it's up to law enforcement whether they arrest or whether they write a ticket for a civil fine."

O'Keefe hopes that passing the ordinance will help the voices of the community be heard.

"In discussions at prior meetings, law enforcement has expressed that they are not interested yet in participating, but I feel that whether we get the final say or not, we should do what our community wants us to do."

If the board accepts the proposal, an ordinance will be brought back to the commission at a later date for approval.