Bill to decriminalize marijuana heard by Senate Committee

Published: Apr. 17, 2017 at 6:12 PM EDT
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

April 17, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Five counties and eight cities in the state have passed ordinances decriminalizing personal use amounts of marijuana. A bill heard in a State Senate committee Monday, would have decriminalized pot in the rest of the state.

With medical marijuana’s sweeping victory in November, it’s clear public opinion on the drug has shifted.

With this bill, the question was, just how far are legislators willing to go?

Ordinances passed in some of Florida’s biggest cities like Tampa, Orlando and Miami-Dade County make activists think decriminalization may be on the horizon.

“Right now we have millions of people who are living under one law and millions more who are living under a different law,” said Jodi James, Executive Director of Florida Cannabis Action Network.

They claim penalties for marijuana offenses are currently too high.

“You don’t have to throw people in jail, ruin their lives over something that’s maybe an adolescent or a juvenile or a young adult mistake,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.

The Senate Bill would make possession of under an ounce of marijuana a first degree misdemeanor.

The penalty? A $100 fine.

“And it’s going to make sure that we’re saving tax payers money in the long run because really, no one wants to send someone to jail for a small amount of marijuana,” said James.

The bill treats minors differently-- no fine, just 15 hours of community service and the completion of a drug awareness program and notifying the parents.

“We want to send kids the message that it’s not okay, but that if they do do something to break the law that we still want them to be able to prosper,” said James.

Advocates say they’re excited the idea was given a hearing at all.

“There have been many many bills proposed, but it’s never had a hearing. So this is a major step forward to end prohibition,” said Melissa Villar with NORML Tallahassee.

Lawmakers did discuss the bill, but no vote was taken, making the prospect of decriminalization likely dead this year, but advocates believe the hearing was a step into the future.

Marijuana Advocates will stay around the Capitol until at least Thursday as part of their annual NORML lobby days.

Tomorrow, they’ll be advocating for the House's medical marijuana bill as it comes up for a committee hearing.