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Uphill battle: Pushback from Mayor, police against Jacksonville cannabis decriminalization

Is Duval ready for decriminalization?

In a matter of weeks, the Jacksonville City Council will mull a marijuana decriminalization measure. But if it is to pass, it will be without support from key stakeholders.

The bill by Democrat Garrett Dennis would allow for civil citations rather than arrests for those caught with less than 20 grams of cannabis.

The citations would occasion either a $100 fine or 10 hours of community service.

“Yesterday I filed a bill to provide our police officers with the ability to issue a citation for small amounts of marijuana instead of an arrest,” Dennis said.

“During my reelection campaign,” Dennis added, “I spoke to many citizens whose lives were thrown into a downward spiral due to possessing minimal amounts of marijuana.  Families were in debt because of legal issues, loss of employment or the inability to secure gainful employment; based on these misdemeanor arrests.”

Dennis said that “having an option to issue a civil citation would essentially support legislation coming out of Tallahassee, and ultimately assist with the overcrowding of our jails and the court system.”  

“Our officers’ focus should be on violent crimes, and although illegal, possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana should not be life-altering. Civil citations would be the first step in minimalizing arrests, but still holding the individual accountable,” Dennis said.

Though no Northeast Florida county has decriminalized cannabis yet, Duval could be the first, if Dennis’ bill gets traction.

The legislation would remove paraphenalia possession from the criminal code also.

On behalf of Mayor Lenny Curry, Chief of Staff Brian Hughes offered comment.

“Legalizing drugs and encouraging law enforcement to ignore state and federal law seems contradictory to ensuring our city is safer,” Hughes remarked.

“Over the course of many years,” Hughes added, “Florida had a thoughtful dialogue on certain changes to law allowing new medicinal uses. Policy makers continue to grapple with the implications of those changes with a focus on public safety and patient health.”

“At this time, we have one bill filed by one City Councilmember. Consistent with how Mayor Curry reacts to City Council legislation, he 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,” Hughes concluded, “he will consider what action is best for the people of Jacksonville.”

The local Fraternal Order of Police has likewise sparred with Dennis, and it is hard to imagine the union taking a pro-decriminalization position under these circumstances.

President Steve Zona, who regards Dennis as a policy lightweight, commented on Facebook.

“That’s his only suggestion for reducing crime in Jacksonville,” Zona said, “decriminalize something.”

Likewise, Sheriff Mike Williams also opposes.

“I do not support the decriminalization of marijuana,” Williams said.

Dennis was elected to a second term in March against less-than-serious competition.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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