Councilman files bill to decriminalize pot in Jacksonville

Civil infraction would result in $100 fine or 10 days of community service

By Zachery Lashway - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - City Councilman Garrett Dennis will introduce a bill filed last week that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Jacksonville.

"We are one of the last large counties that's moving toward decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana," Dennis, who represents part of the Urban Core and Westside, told News4Jax.

The legislation would make having less than 20 grams of marijuana, which currently is a misdemeanor offense in Florida, a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine -- instead of a crime.

If the bill were to pass, someone found to have that amount of marijuana could either pay the fine or perform 10 hours of community service at a local agency.

DOCUMENTS: Read a preliminary version of the bill

The bill does not have the backing of Sheriff Mike Williams. He said his agency closely monitors the state's shifting medical marijuana laws, but noted he does not support decriminalization of marijuana.

"We are always looking at ways to be efficient in the enforcement of these laws, and believe that no additional local legislation is necessary," Williams said in a statement provided by a spokesperson.

Resident Matthew Heinz said he would support the legislation, noting that it could not only conserve city resources but also allow police to focus on serious crimes.

"I am fully in favor of police officers here being able to spend their time pursuing real criminals instead of people who smoke weed," Heinz told News4Jax on Thursday.

Added resident Stacey Holman: "It's good for them to penalize them for having it because it is breaking the law."

According to a draft version of the legislation available on the city’s website, no one would be allowed to receive more than three civil citations.

"There are still penalties for having marijuana," said Dennis. "But it's just how we deal with it." He adds that he is introducing this measure after talking with many residents in his district and how the penalties of being arrested and charged with small amounts of marijuana disrupted the lives of too many people

The bill is expected to be introduced at the City Council meeting on Wednesday. Once the bill is introduced, it will be debated, discussed and ultimately voted on. The bill will need 10 votes to pass. 

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