The Volusia County Council unanimously voted to pass a county ordinance
making possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana a county ordinance violation
punishable by a fine of $100. By doing so, Volusia County followed in
the footsteps of Dade and Palm Beach Counties towards a more progressive
and realistic approach to marijuana. Even closer to home, Flagler County
is currently considering a similar measure.
I know what you’re thinking. How does passing a county ordinance
banning marijuana make it legal? The answer is very simple. It doesn’t.
Florida Statute 893.13, which makes marijuana illegal in Florida, was
not affected by the passage of this or any other county ordinance addressing
marijuana possession. However, the passing of this type of ordinance suggests
local governments are moving towards decriminalization and legalization.
By passing this ordinance Volusia County gave law enforcement officers
another option when they encounter a person in possession of a small amount
of cannabis. Specifically, instead of only having the option of arresting
the person or not, which typically meant arresting them, the officer can
now issue the person a non-criminal county ordinance violation instead.
The impact on the person is huge. They don’t have to spend hours
in jail until they are released, their mugshot isn’t on the internet
for family or employers to find, and they save the additional costs of
posting bond and hiring a lawyer.
Other serious sanctions with life-altering consequences are avoided as
well. Under Florida law, a person convicted of possession of marijuana
is subjected to a one year driver’s license suspension. They also
may lose their financial aid for college or vocational training. This
lack of access to education and specialized training puts the person at
a severe competitive disadvantage when trying to compete for jobs, and
that disadvantage is exacerbated by the stigma of having a drug offense
on their record.
This movement towards legalization also has a positive impact on the safety
of our communities and our local governments financially. Now that law
enforcement can essentially write a ticket for possessing marijuana, they
will not waste their time making arrests, writing reports, and booking
these people. Instead, they can focus their efforts on more serious crimes.
Fewer marijuana arrests also mean fewer criminal defendants and that will
reduce the strain on the State Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office.
In Dade County, for example, misdemeanor cannabis cases accounted for 10%
of all the criminal cases filed between 2010 and 2014. This equated to
roughly 45,000 cases. Of these 45,000 cases less than 2%, or approximately
900 cases, resulted in a conviction. By substantially reducing the number
of misdemeanor cannabis cases a court has through the passage of county
ordinances like this, prosecutors and judges become free to devote their
time, energy and court resources to more serious crimes.
Remember that marijuana possession is still illegal in Florida. And until
St. Johns County, Flagler County, Putnam County, Clay County, and Duval
County follow suit and pass similar ordinances themselves, you will likely
be arrested if you are caught with marijuana. So be smart and if you or
someone you know has been arrested for marijuana possession or any other
crime, contact the Albaugh Law Firm for a free consultation. Our experienced
attorneys have been integrating this changing attitude toward marijuana
into our defense strategy for our clients facing both misdemeanor and
felony marijuana cases with great success.