Jacksonville city councilman files bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

Jacksonville city councilman files bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis has filed a bill to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia.

Jacksonville’s sheriff and mayor are not on board with the proposal.

If the bill passes, people caught with fewer than 20 grams of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia could be given civil citations instead of going to jail.

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“'Don’t shoot.' I just kept screaming that at the top of my lungs,” said Jor-El Pizarro, who supports decriminalizing marijuana.

Pizarro said he was arrested a few years ago during a traffic stop for having marijuana, which helps his anxiety.

“All I had was about 17 grams, 19 grams of cannabis. I’m not part of any gang. I’m not part of any criminal activity in the city,” Pizarro said.

If Dennis’ bill passes in Jacksonville, people like Pizarro caught with fewer than 20 grams of marijuana could be given a $100 fine or 10 hours of community service, instead of a criminal record.

Right now, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Pizarro said the arrest can affect a person’s life even if they’re never convicted.

“Your mugshot is already out there. Your employer sees it. The people who know you see it. Your family sees it,” Pizarro said.

Dennis issued the following statement on the bill he filed:

Yesterday I filed a bill to provide our police officers with the ability to issue a citation for small amounts of marijuana instead of an arrest.  During my reelection campaign, I spoke to many citizens whose lives were thrown into a downward spiral due to possessing minimal amounts of marijuana.  Families were in debt because of legal issues, loss of employment or the inability to secure gainful employment; based on these misdemeanor arrests. Further, having an option to issue a civil citation would essentially support legislation coming out of Tallahassee, and ultimately assist with the overcrowding of our jails and the court system.  Our officers' focus should be on violent crimes, and although illegal, possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana should not be life-altering. Civil citations would be the first step in minimalizing arrests, but still holding the individual accountable."

Sheriff Mike Williams issued the following statement on the decriminalization of marijuana:

"I do not support the decriminalization of marijuana. The agency has been following the ever-evolving changes in medical-marijuana laws in the State of Florida. We are always looking at ways to be efficient in the enforcement of these laws, and believe that no additional local legislation is necessary."

Chief of Staff Brian Hughes, on behalf of Mayor Lenny Curry, issued the following statement:

"Legalizing drugs and encouraging law enforcement to ignore state and federal law seems contradictory to ensuring our city is safer.
"Over the course of many years, Florida had a thoughtful dialogue on certain changes to law allowing new medicinal uses. Policy makers continue to grapple with the implications of those changes with a focus on public safety and patient health.
"At this time, we have one bill filed by one City Councilmember. Consistent with how Mayor Curry reacts to City Council legislation, he looks forward to hearing from the community, from criminal justice and law enforcement experts and the remainder of the Council. If such legislation is passed, he will consider what action is best for the people of Jacksonville."
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