Leon County Commission backs off marijuana civil citation ordinance

Cbd Concept, Medical Marijuana, cannabis and blue background
“I am convinced that the system is not broken. I don’t want to politicize this issue.”

At a workshop Tuesday, Leon County Commissioners declined to move forward with drafting an ordinance creating a civil citation punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Instead, the Commission unanimously passed a resolution encouraging State Attorney Jack Campbell and local law enforcement to use their current diversion programs. Campbell was in attendance during the workshop and voiced his opposition to citations.

Marijuana civil citation programs, which allow law enforcement to offer civil fines instead of arresting people possessing 20 grams or less, have grown in popularity in Florida since 2015. In total, 15 Florida counties have passed civil citation ordinances.

However, enforcing civil citation marijuana ordinances is left up to state attorney and local law enforcement discretion, because they are still able to arrest and charge people for violating state and federal law. Such an ordinance in Leon County would rely on law enforcement agencies like the Tallahassee Police Department and Leon County Sheriff’s Office to actually change how marijuana possession is punished in the area.

Campbell’s opposition to the citations was multifaceted during the meeting.

He pointed to the fact that no one has been imprisoned in the Leon County Detention Facility for first-time charges of possessing 20 grams or less of marijuana alone since 2019. He attributed it to a climb in the use of the county and state attorney’s office diversion programs that offer alternatives like community service or classes for first-time or low-risk offenders.

Campbell also said giving officers discretion in enforcing marijuana violations is vital for fighting violent crime connected to the substance. He specifically discussed the shooting death of FAMU Cheerleader MaKayla Bryant, who he said was killed while trying to purchase marijuana.

“What started the ball rolling, whether we like it or not, is the fact that she decided to, most likely, buy marijuana from somebody she had never met before,” Campbell said.

He also said he would not use the civil citations because it would create a different standard from cases he prosecutes for other counties in his jurisdiction.

“I would not be able to treat the people of Gadsden County the same as I could Leon County,” he said. “I think it is a terrible disservice to treat them differently.”

County Commissioner Nick Maddox, who made the motion to pass the resolution, said he was convinced that the civil citation is not currently needed because of the lack of people imprisoned for the crime. However, he said he would be willing to revisit the measure if incarceration numbers climb in the future.

“I am convinced that the system is not broken,” he said. “I don’t want to politicize this issue. If we are being effective we are being effective.”

While no vote was taken on an ordinance Tuesday, there may still be an appetite to pass one in the future. Commissioners Carolyn Cummings, Kristin Dozier, Rick Minor, Bill Proctor and Brian Welch all expressed interest in pursuing it, although some tied their interest to whether local law enforcement was willing to buy in.

Cummings said passing the ordinance could help send a positive message to community members who distrust law enforcement. She said she would support the ordinance if the state attorney and law enforcement agencies are on board.

Welch said he believes marijuana policy will continue to become more relaxed in the U.S. He said passing an ordinance would allow the county to get ahead of the curb and signal that the county’s leadership supports policy change at the state and national level.

He pointed to the discrepancies between people being legally allowed to possess 20 grams of marijuana for medical use, but can still face jail time without the proper licensing.

“I don’t think it’s fair for someone to be arrested or go to jail for having 20 grams or less of marijuana in the world we live in today,” Welch said.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood

One comment

  • David T. Hawkins

    March 22, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    I am all for civil citation for possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana. First Fine should be $500, Second should be $500 and 50 Hours of Community Service, Third should be $1,000 and 100 Hours of Community Service, Forth time you get Arrested.

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