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Orlando is Looking Like It Might be the Next Florida City to Decriminalize Marijuana

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It’s barely been a month since Tampa City Council voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (though whether or not county sheriffs and Florida Highway Patrol will be going along with it is another story all together). It appears that Orlando was not far behind them on this issue as Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the decriminalization ordinance just a few days ago.

“I think, in this day and age, giving somebody a second chance … without establishing a criminal record helps improve their opportunities in the future,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who supports the measure.

The ordinance is extremely similar to the one that was implemented in Tampa on April 1st. It would take a current misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession under 20 grams and turn it into a civil citation; so rather than facing up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine those who are caught with less than 20 grams will be issued a citation that would start at $50 for first time offenders, $100 for the second offence. All additional offences would require a court appearance.

The fines are much lower than the ones in Tampa for the initial offence and the second offence – but in Tampa repeat offenders will face a repeated $450 fine, rather than a court date that which for Orlando would determine the fate of a repeat offender. On the other hand – in a city as populated as Orlando (or even Tampa for that matter) the chance of the same individual getting caught more than two or three times is unlikely I would like to guess.

“For people who don’t have a criminal history, or haven’t been in trouble, this will give our officers an option so that person’s life won’t be ruined by a criminal record,” said Mina (Orlando Police Chief).

There are a few main goals that decriminalization, in both cities as well as across the country, are trying to reach. The first is to stop taking young people’s lives and ruining them before they get a chance to get started. So many young people are arrested for marijuana possession and that leads them to have a mark on their record for the rest of their life. This can ruin their chances of getting into schools or getting financial aid from the government as well as restrict career and housing potential.

Other goals include hoping to reduce the number of racially unbalanced arrests (many reports show that more black individuals are arrested for marijuana than any other race, and at a rate double or even triple that of white people in some places). This ordinance covers both possession of under 20 grams and the possession of paraphernalia related to marijuana (bowls, bongs, roaches, etc.) – which would certainly save many people the hell of going through the court systems.

Above all else, decriminalization sends a message to the state – especially as more and more cities choose to implement ordinances to allow citations instead of arrest and jail. These cities are saying that making it a criminal offense doesn’t work, it ruins lives and it costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year. There is even hope that as more Florida cities and counties choose not to recognize state law, there will be more momentum towards bills like United for Care’s Amendment 2 and any potential amendments in the future to pass.

With Orlando on the list once the ordinance is passed by city council (and thankfully it has the support of both the Mayor and Chief of Police), they will be joining Miami Beach, Hallandale Beach, Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, West Palm Beach, Wilton Manors, Volusia County, Key West and Tampa – all of whom have decriminalized marijuana in less than a year. It’s clear that Floridians are ready for change – and all this is leading up to a major step forward this November if all goes well for Amendment 2.

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