Leon County Commission votes against marijuana decriminalization

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 8:09 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - With possession and use of marijuana still illegal under state and federal law the Leon County Commission voted 4-3 against a measure for staff to bring back a proposed ordinance that would have dropped criminal penalties for possession.

The commission did accept a staff report on alternatives to incarceration for possession, but took no further action on the measure.

Marijuana still listed as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act, meaning the federal government has classified it as having a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and that the drug lack safety for medical supervision.

All reasons why Leon County District 3 Commission Rick Minor voted ‘no’ against adopting an ordinance at the county level.

“If we were to pass an ordinance saying that marijuana possession wasn’t a crime, it would still be a crime so I think it’s wrong for us to do that, to mislead people because they could still be arrested for it,” Minor said.

Though Florida has allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, federal law would supersede any ordinance the commission could have passed, Minor said. Article VI of the United States Constitution provides that federal law pre-empts state law, even when those laws conflict.

Criminal penalties in Florida for those found in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana without a valid medical card are up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession or sale of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony offense with escalating penalties according to the amount possessed or sold.

Commissioners Christian Caban, Bill Proctor and David O’Keefe all voted in favor of the ordinance for decriminalization.

Caban said criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana lead to “lives being ruined” something he said he doesn’t want to see happen.

“I do believe it’s kind of a barbaric policy that we haven’t moved forward from as a county while other counties and municipalities around Florida have already moved forward,” Caban said.

Caban said a “more reasonable approach” would be a monetary fine, something in place in several other counties and municipalities around Florida.

“When we campaigned this last election cycle it was a frequent topic people talked about,” Caban said. “In 2016 District 2 voted with a super majority to move forward to allow medical marijuana.”

Minor said he voted against the ordinance because of a strain it would put on law enforcement and the state attorney’s office, having to choose whether to enforce local ordinance or sate law.

“The county commission unanimously supports the legalization of marijuana (possession) of 20 grams or less,” Minor said. “But we’ve got to focus on changing state and federal law, that’s where the path to legalization lies.”

Caban added that he hopes to see a constitutional amendment for legalization of marijuana at the state level on the ballot for 2024.