The majority of voters in Duval County are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, according to a University of North Florida poll released Friday.
UNF’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory found that 84% of voters oppose locking people up for possessing small amounts of pot. Decriminalizing marijuana got more support than some other issues in Jacksonville such as Duval County Public Schools’ proposed half-cent sales tax and a theoretical sale of JEA.
“Aside from the use of body cameras by police, marijuana decriminalization has had the most support of any issue that we have polled on since I have been in Jacksonville,” said Michael Binder, Director of the Public Opinion Research Lab.
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According to the survey, 66% of Duval’s registered voters strongly support the measure, while 18% somewhat support it. Additionally, 5% somewhat oppose issuing civil citations and 11% strongly oppose it.
“There has been a bill introduced in City Council addressing this issue, and city leadership might want to take note of the voice of the voters,” added Binder.
That bill, sponsored by Councilman Garrett Dennis, would allow police to issue civil citations to people caught with less than 20 grams of pot.
“It’s costing our city millions of dollars,” said Dennis, who added the poll validates what he’s been hearing from constituents. “And a lot of times those individuals that are arrested, the charges are dropped, but yet they’re already in the judicial system with a criminal record of being arrested, serving time in jail.
Under the current law, illegal marijuana possession 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 $200 fine or 10 hours of community service.
Despite the broad public support, the legislation has an uphill battle with some top city officials pushing back against decriminalizing marijuana, including Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.
The Mayor’s Office has also questioned whether the legislation is needed, with Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes telling WJCT News last month that “Legalizing drugs and encouraging law enforcement to ignore state and federal law seems contradictory to ensuring our city is safer.”
Dennis said he’s also gotten similar pushback from constituents and colleagues in City Council.
“I’ve asked for deferral to continue to educate the community and to continue to talk to law enforcement, to people in the legal community as well as the citizens are home,” he said. “Because when you hear decriminalization, some people go straight to you want to legalize marijuana.”
The recently elected City Council, which will start meeting in July, will take up the bill.
Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, email@example.com or on Twitter at @abukaradan17