A member of the Jacksonville, Florida city council filed a bill on Thursday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure, the Jacksonville Civil Citation for Small Quantity Marijuana Possession Ordinance, would give law enforcement officers the option to issue a civil citation for possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis. The bill was authored by Councilman Garrett Dennis, who said in a statement that the ordinance would allow police to concentrate on more serious matters.
“Our officers’ focus should be on violent crimes, and although illegal, possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana should not be life-altering,” said Dennis. “Civil citations would be the first step in minimizing arrests, but still holding the individual accountable.”
Alluding to efforts to legalize the use of recreational cannabis by adults in Florida at the state level, the councilman added that “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.”
Bill Would Impose Fines Instead of Jail Time
If passed, those cited under the ordinance with possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana would face a fine of $100 instead of jail time. Offenders would also have the option of completing 10 hours of community service instead of the fine.
Dennis, who represents Jacksonville’s District 9, said that his constituents have been calling for reform of the city’s cannabis policy to help avoid the collateral damage inherent in criminal convictions for even minor offenses.
“During my reelection campaign, I spoke to many citizens whose lives were thrown into a downward spiral due to possessing minimal amounts of marijuana,” he said. ” Families were in debt because of legal issues, loss of employment or the inability to secure gainful employment; based on these misdemeanor arrests.”
Under the ordinance, an individual could receive a maximum of three civil citations for possessing small amounts of marijuana. If an offender charged under the proposed law fails to pay the imposed fine or complete the required hours of community service, they could face a fine of $500 instead.
Dennis’ bill seems to punish those who choose to fully exercise their right to due process under the law. Civil citations issued under the ordinance can be challenged in court, but if a judge finds that a violation occurred, the offender faces a fine of $500 instead of $100.