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Commissioner: Decriminalize Small Amounts Of Marijuana

Bokske via Wikimedia Commons

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor is pushing to decriminalize marijuana possession.  If Proctor gets his way, 20 grams or less would result in a ticket rather than an arrest.

Florida’s governor just approved an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana regime, and in November, Florida’s voters may expand it even further at the ballot box.  Public opinion appears to be shifting—fast.  Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor says it’s time to start treating marijuana possession as a civil matter.

“This proposal starts with the most basic fundamental,” Proctor says, “and the idea is that the possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana will actually have a misdemeanor effect—a civil citation and not a criminal charge.”

For years now, Leon County has run a civil citation program.  But Civil Citation Network President Greg Frost explains Leon’s program differs from similar efforts in other parts of the state.

“I think what he’s looking at is similar to what other counties and cities have done around Florida,” Frost says.

“The term civil citation, to a certain extent, has been hijacked.”

He explains Leon County’s program is built on diversion.  Offenders can voluntarily participate and they’ll be put through a number of programs aimed at reducing recidivism.  But in other jurisdictions—and under Proctor’s proposal—the law enforcement response is much simpler.

“So it decriminalizes,” he says.  “It’s a civil, it’s not a criminal offense.  Then you pay a fine like when you run the red light, or run the stop sign, or hit somebody’s car.  It’s civil not a criminal act.”

“You don’t walk out with your hands behind your back.”

Proctor says with counties like Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach all passing similar measures, Leon should follow suit.  It’s not fair, he says, for citizens to face a patchwork of different enforcement policies. 

But it’s not clear how effective his plan would be.

In Palm Beach County the Commission may have passed the ordinance, but the Sheriff’s office is still treating possession as a crime.  If Proctor is successful, his proposal will apply throughout the county—but only for county agencies.  The Citation Network’s Frost explains it can’t force the hand of city agencies like the Tallahassee and university police departments.

“The county would pass it, but then it would be up to each of the other law enforcement agencies or their respective legislative bodies to determine if they wanted to go ahead and either allow them to take enforcement action based on the county ordinance or pass a similar ordinance,” Frost says.

Proctor says he’s reaching out to city officials to develop a common enforcement system, but he has no illusions—he expects gaining passage in the county commission will be difficult.  Proctor plans on introducing the idea at the next meeting April 12.