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Florida Counties Take Big Steps Towards Decriminalizing Marijuana

Cannabis-PlantsThe 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.

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