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Do You Support Orlando's Move to Decriminalize Marijuana?

big_bud - Copy.jpgA number of cities across the United States are adopting new ways to deal with marijuana possession and now Orlando is the latest to considering decriminalizing the drug. This past week, The Orlando City Council proposed a new ordinance that could change possession of up to 20 grams into a city code violation.

What Does This Mean?

Law enforcement would now have the option to give a citation that includes a fine of $50 for those who are first-time offenders, similar to the process of giving out traffic tickets. The same ordinance in the city would fine second time offenders with $100 while a third or any subsequent citation would result in a court appearance. If set in motion, the ordinance would go into effect on May 9, 2016.

A Common Thread in Central Florida

John Mina, Orlando's chief of police announced his support for the passage, labeling it as a right thing to do. He also said that his officers already operate under some discretion to simply confiscate marijuana in small amounts without an arrest. This is a regular practice when there is no crime being committed.

Orlando would join a number of other locations in Florida that employ civil penalties as a legal option for offenses related to minor marijuana possessions. Volusia County and Tampa approved ordinances in the previous months, while other governments in South Florida, including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade already have these in place. Orlando's governing bodies observed these places during the process of making a decision about decriminalization. According to their statistics, Orlando police officers carried out 365 adult and 52 juvenile marijuana related arrests in 2015.

Local Opinion Leans Towards Approval

The move to pass this ordinance has gained the approval of many. The chair of the activist group Organize Now, Debbie Soto, said that people of color have been negatively affected and lives have been ruined by putting people in jail for nonviolent misdemeanors. Decriminalization advocates have also supported the move and are of a similar opinion. They have noted that young people have been negatively affected by the arrests as these low-level offenders get branded with a permanent record. They also noted that these arrests waste the time of courts and also police officers.

However, not all are pleased with the Orlando decriminalization proposal. John Stemberger, the president of the conservative organization Florida Family Policy Council, is of the opinion that if any controlled substance should be legalized, it should be purely for appropriate medicinal purposes which the FDA has to approve.

The Effect on Current Laws

Officers will still be able to make an arrest for a misdemeanor marijuana possession. Under the current state law, the possession of this substance is a misdemeanor crime that comes with a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. It is important for police officers to use proper discretion in determining whether an arrest should be made or not. In cases where there is suspicion of serious crime or the suspect has been dealing and taking narcotics, an arrest can be made.  However, the police chief assured that minors or anyone without a criminal history will not have their life ruined by an arrest, trial, and jail time.

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