Orlando has become the newest city in Florida focused on decriminalizing marijuana possession in small amounts. The Orlando City Council narrowly passed a measure yesterday that would allow city officers to issue a $50 fine to anyone with under 20 grams (approximately 2/3 of an ounce) of marijuana in their possession. While the decriminalization of cannabis is in effect in other Florida cities, it remains illegal on a state level. This means officers would have the power within their discretion to decide on whether to confiscate the marijuana and issue a warning, issue a fine, or an arrest.
Fighting the Drag on Orlando’s Resources
Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Mayor Buddy Dyer are all supporters of the measure, speaking at the hearing in favor of passing the ordinance. Vast amounts of city resources are drained by marijuana arrests. The financial strain on taxpayers, law enforcement, and the judicial system for what is considered a petty crime is a concern to the police chief, the mayor, and the sheriff. The cost on the lives of those targeted and convicted can be immense, destroying education and employment opportunities for the rest of their lives. The price of prohibition on a substance scientifically known to be healthier than alcohol, non-addictive, non-lethal and medicinally invaluable was expressed as too high by those who supported the measure.
Decriminalization of Cannabis in a Tourist City
The ordinance passed with a 4-3 vote though, showing the lack of confidence in the measure by some on the council. Commissioner Samuel Ings, who voted against the ordinance was worried about hurting Orlando’s reputation as a tourist city for families. Commissioners Jim Gray and Tony Ortiz also voted against the ordinance, concerned that there wasn’t enough data available from other cities with similar laws.
Voices Against Decriminalization
Many people were heard at the hearing. Jim Miller, whose 15 year old died from an overdose of prescription drugs in 2010 after being known to have used marijuana, spoke against the ordinance. He said “we feel that marijuana is a gateway drug.” Despite these feelings, research shows that marijuana is not, in fact, a gateway drug. Prescription drugs, however, are extremely dangerous and kill thousands of people a year. Another who spoke against the ordinance, was Benjamin Purdum, saying he wanted his grandchildren to know boundaries.
Giving People a Chance
Those on the council who voted in favor of the ordinance were Regina Hill, Patty Sheelan, Robert Stuart, and Mayor Buddy Dyer. There were some on both sides, including Hill, who were worried about citations being distributed unfairly, since it would be based on an officer’s discretion whether to arrest or issue the fine. Hill, having experience with possession in her past, saw the value in passing the ordinance anyway, even with those concerns, stating “how can I not vote for this ordinance (after) somebody gave me a chance? So it’s my duty to vote yes for this ordinance because this does help other people have a chance.”
Supporters of the ordinance talked about the waste of city resources and harmful effect on people’s lives left by minor marijuana possession charges. The second hearing about the decriminalization of cannabis in Orlando will be held on May 9th.