Tampa has officially decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed an ordinance, which was approved by the City Council on a 5 to 1 vote, allowing Tampa police officers to issue a civil fine for people caught with up to 20 grams of pot. Instead of facing arrest, offenders could get a citation with fines starting at $75 and increasing up to $450 for repeat offenses.
Tampa’s decriminalization of weed possession follows similar efforts recently made in Volusia County and South Florida. Another public referendum will be on the ballot this year to legalize medical marijuana as well, an effort being sponsored and funded by attorney John Morgan. So, will the City of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer decriminalize marijuana possession?
Orlando is an overwhelmingly Democratic city with a strong progressive base. Mayor Dyer is supposedly a leader within the state Democratic Party and this is a key issue for many in his party. John Morgan is a friend and prominent supporter (and donor) of the Mayor, who also influences party politics. On top of that, many throughout Orlando continue to be harmed more than helped by the current methods and penalties. Despite all of this, it doesn’t seem like decriminalization is a priority for Dyer so far.
Currently, Mayor Dyer has only asked City staff to review what has been done in other jurisdictions including Tampa, Volusia and Miami-Dade. However, there’s no indication Dyer is actively moving the issue forward toward a vote yet.
“At this point, staff is still in the evaluation process so there is not a decision as to if this will come before the Orlando City Council,” said Cassandra Lafser, the Mayor’s Press Secretary.
It’s time for the City Council to at least discuss and debate the issue.
“There is almost a universal recognition that we need to do this better,” Tampa Mayor Buckhorn said earlier this year. “Doing this doesn’t make us any less anti-drug, but it’s a realization that the penalties that have been imposed have done more damage to the trajectories of young peoples’ lives than the offenses have warranted.”