In the past year or so there have been multiple cities and counties in the state of Florida that have chosen to move towards decriminalization rather than incarceration when it comes to small-time marijuana possession. On Monday, Orlando became the next city on that list after voting 4-3 at the second reading of an ordinance that decriminalizes possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis as well as possession of paraphernalia.
The ordinance passed with the exact same narrow vote that pushed it through the first reading and on to the second. However, there were changes that were made to the ordinance since that first reading about a month ago. Those changes were to the fines that will be imposed under the decriminalization ordinance. Originally it was to start at $50 for first time offenders and now it will start at a minimum of $100 for first time offenders.
That fine would double for second time offenders at $200 and subsequent offenses would receive a $500 fine and a court hearing. For those who cannot afford the fines, the options of either community service or a drug education class will be available. Even after the fines have been doubled, David Seigel believes the fines still aren’t high enough.
“I would prefer [it] to be a much stiffer fine,” Siegel said. “These kids are walking around with a lot of money in their pockets.”
Personally, I find this statement a bit laughable – I don’t know many people between the ages of 15-30 who have hundreds of dollars to just throw around; especially considering it’s the lower and middle classes who are often most affected by marijuana possession arrests and those are the classes this fine aims to help.
On the other hand, while the ordinance did pass with a very close vote, it still passed and it will go into effect as of October 1st of this year. The fines will go to funding the drug education classes that will be available to people as an alternative to the fine and law enforcement can focus on more important crimes happening in the area.
“By freeing up the criminal justice system, we are able to address our real public safety challenges in Orlando … and reinvest into public-health programs,” said Korey Wheeler of Organize Now, an activist group that pushed for the ordinance.
Decriminalization does come with its drawbacks, like the fact that it is at the officer’s discretion to decide to make an arrest rather than issue a fine. This is probably the only argument against decriminalization that I somewhat agree with – however, it is still better to reduce the number of needless arrests if we aren’t ready to regulate an industry that will continue whether it is underground or out in the open.