The city of Orlando didn’t waste any time when it came to the first reading of an ordinance that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. On Monday (4/18) the City Council held a meeting where they would read the ordinance, hear a number of people who were both in support and opposition of the bill, and then cast their vote. By the end of the session, the ordinance was passed with a vote of 4-3, splitting it as close down the middle as it possibly could be.
“I believe this is a step in the right direction,” Demings (Orange County Sheriff) said. “I support this with the caveat that deputy sheriffs can retain discretion.”
The ordinance will have a second reading on May 9th at which, if the vote is in favor once again, it will be signed by Mayor Buddy Dyer and become law that day. Currently, officers have two options when they catch an offender with marijuana, let them go with a verbal warning or arrest them. This fine (starting at $50 for the first offense) would be an entirely new solution and would not replace the state statutes, but simply give officers a middle ground option between the two.
Some of Orlando’s city council is not quite as on board, one commissioner Samuel Ings expressed concern that it would damage Orlando’s image as a family friendly tourist stop and says it could be the start of a “slippery slope”. He also made the comment that “People need to know and understand that this is making it easier for criminals to use marijuana, with less criminal charges and punishment,”.
This statement alone tells me Ings believes all marijuana users to be criminals – but what about those of whose only crime ever was to smoke a little ganja? Should that be enough to cause life-long issues over a single arrest that could have been avoided with a fine?
Another commissioner against the ordinance said that they don’t have to “follow the trend…just because it has become popular”. From the sound of it though, the ordinance was written to introduce a fair way to implement the warning officers already have the option of issuing – but with a fine attached which, trust me, can ruin anyone’s day.
Of those who spoke at the hearing, there was a professor from Rollins College who is very happy with this ordinance as a first step towards ending the War on Drugs in Florida. Another was a woman who was convicted of a minor marijuana charge five years ago and is still running into issues because of it today.
On the side of commissioners (and Mayor Dyer) who voted in favor of the ordinance, one woman had a very personal experience that put her in support. She has had to overcome her own drug arrests when running for City Council back in 2014 – “How can I not vote for this ordinance [after] somebody gave me a chance?” Hill said. “So it’s my duty to vote yes for this ordinance because this does help other people have a chance.”
So now, after many people sharing their reasoning for support or opposition, we are halfway to seeing Orlando follow so many other Florida cities that have chosen to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the last year. Now, the wait is on until May 9th when the Orlando City Council will cast their final vote.