Top City Officials Pushback Against Decriminalizing Marijuana

May 10, 2019

Legislation filed this week by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana is getting pushback from top city officials.

Related: Councilman Dennis Files Bill To Decriminalize Pot In Jacksonville

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams has come out against the measure by Dennis, which would allow police to issue a civil citation to people caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or paraphilia rather than arrest them.  

The Mayor’s Office also questioned whether the legislation is needed, with Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes telling WJCT News: “Legalizing drugs and encouraging law enforcement to ignore state and federal law seems contradictory to ensuring our city is safer.”

Dennis said locking up low-level offenders has ruined too many lives.

“It has wrecked lives, wrecked families and we need to be building and strengthening our communities,” he said. “And quite frankly it’s become a drain on our society.”  

Under the current law, possession of a small amount of pot is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dennis’ proposal would replace that with a $100 fine or 10 hours of community service.  

In an email to WJCT News Friday, Williams said that he does not support decriminalization of marijuana - and said he feels it’s unnecessary.  

“We are always looking at ways to be efficient in the enforcement of these laws, and believe that no additional local legislation is necessary,” he wrote.

If the legislation is passed, Jacksonville would join a growing list of states and cities that are moving to eliminate penalties for recreational use of the drug.

Although Curry didn’t express support for the bill he also didn’t rule out considering it, with Hughes saying, “He [Curry] looks forward to hearing from the community, from criminal justice and law enforcement experts and the remainder of the Council. If such legislation is passed, he will consider what action is best for the people of Jacksonville.”

Dennis, who’s been an outspoken critic of Curry’s administration, said he hopes the mayor doesn’t play politics with lives of citizens in Jacksonville.

“It’s more about Councilman Garrett Dennis introducing a bold bill to move this city forward than thinking about this is the best thing to do,” Dennis said. “So I hope that the mayor doesn’t try to influence my colleagues.”

Despite the pushback, Dennis said he’s optimistic that enough council members will back the idea. He plans to meet with colleagues and hold town halls to garner support.

But he’s not endorsing the use or possession of marijuana, he said.   

“All I am saying is we need to have an alternative to throwing people in jail for small amounts of marijuana,” he said.

Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana. And while recreational use is still illegal, cities and counties across the state are loosening up penalties.

“We’ve been left behind, so it’s time for us to act and be like every other big city here in Florida,” Dennis said.

Several communities across the state including Volusia, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties already allow similar punshment instead of jail time. 

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, aadan@wjct.org or on Twitter at @abukaradan17