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Orlando City Council approves marijuana decriminalization measure

In a post last month, we began discussing how Orlando was inching ever closer to having a marijuana decriminalization measure on its books, following the lead of places like Tampa and Volusia County.

In recent developments, Orlando officially joined the ranks of these municipalities when the City Council voted 4-3 to approve a measure allowing police officers to hand out citations to those caught with marijuana. Indeed, the city is now the first in Central Florida to adopt such a progressive stance.

The new city ordinance, which underwent considerable amendments by city staff to address community concerns and, by extension, secure the necessary council votes, calls for police officers to be given the choice of either issuing a citation or taking a person into custody if they are found to be in possession of 1) 20 grams (roughly two-thirds of ounce) or less of marijuana, or 2) marijuana paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, roach clips, etc.).

The citation amounts called for by the ordinance include a $100 fine for first offenses and a $200 fine for second offenses. Those who commit subsequent offenses would be required to appear in court and could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500.

Interestingly, the revised ordinance also calls for the creation of a diversion program whereby those issued a citation would be allowed to forgo the fine in exchange for completing eight hours of substance-abuse education or community service.

As for arrests, Orlando Chief of Police John Mina, who supported the measure along with Mayor Buddy Dyer, indicated that officers could still make arrests for this misdemeanor-level offense under state law, and would likely continue doing so in those scenarios where a person has a prior record of more serious drug crimes.

While opponents of these sorts of decriminalization measures argue that they deliver the wrong message and act as a sort of slippery slope for young people, supporters argue that they not only conserve the already limited resources of law enforcement and the court system, but also help ensure that those who make a simple mistake aren't left with a permanent criminal record.

The new ordinance takes effect October 1.

If you've been arrested on possession charges, resist the urge to simply put the matter behind you as quickly as possible. At the Law Offices of Mark L. Horwitz, P.A., we understand how stressful these situations can be, and we also understand how potentially damaging it can be to proceed without legal assistance. We have decades of experience in this area and stand ready to protect your future.

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