Meeting on decriminalizing small amounts of pot attracts passionate debate

Councilman Garrett Dennis filed bill, holds first of several of meetings

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Passionate opinions were heard from those who support and oppose a bill to legalize small amounts of marijuana in Jacksonville. City Council member Garrett Dennis held the first of several meetings Saturday at the South Mandarin Library.

"I am 74. I have a PhD in English from the University of Columbia. I taught for 30 years at the University of Florida and during that period of time, I occasionally smoked marijuana and I have to speak to the lady who said that it destroys brain cells. At least in my case, I don’t believe it did," Nancy Levine said.  

Lavine was speaking about comments made by Karen Olson who opposes the bill to decriminalize 20 grams or less of marijuana for a person 18 and older.

"Every time you legalize a little bit, then we have to legalize more and more. I don’t want to see our young people…you know, you all think you’re indestructible, well, you’re not. We get old and our brains deteriorate like the rest of our bodies. You want to be able to think, you want to die thinking, not be in dementia because you have been drugging yourself your whole life," Olson said.

Dennis introduced the bill in May.

"Twenty other city and counties have already passed it in the state of Florida. And it’s time for us to catch up with the times," Dennis said.

Dennis said 86% of people in Duval County support decriminalizing small amounts of pot.

"This is the right thing to do. It’s costing our city millions of dollars every year to prosecute, to arrest individuals with small amounts of marijuana. It’s not addictive, it’s not a gateway drug, and we will not be the only county and city in the state of Florida," Dennis said.

The bill does not have the support of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams. He said his agency closely monitors the state's shifting medical marijuana laws but doesn't support decriminalizing pot.

The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Bennie Furlong Center. 

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