Commissioners in Leon County, Florida, met on March 22 to discuss alternatives to marijuana arrests after rejecting an ordinance that would have made minor marijuana possession a civil rather than criminal offense.
Instead of passing an ordinance that would have required law enforcement to issue civil citations to those in possession of 20 grams of marijuana or less, the commissioners instead opted to pass a resolution that lets law enforcement officers decide how they want to respond to individual cases.
Marijuana is approved for medical purposes in the state, but is not available recreationally. The drug is still a Schedule 1 banned substance at the federal level.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 15 communities in Florida have passed ordinances allowing law enforcement to issue civil citations rather than make arrests.
However, prosecutors like State Attorney Jack Campbell pushed back on efforts to decriminalize the drug, saying he “maintains his opposition to any ordinance that attempts to decriminalize marijuana possession by characterizing the offense as a civil infraction and imposing a civil fine.”
Campbell said the ordinance is not necessary, saying that in the last three years the only people arrested and prosecuted with minor possession were also arrested and prosecuted on other charges, WTXL reports.
However, according to a commission review of the Leon County Detention Facility population between 2019 and 2022, no inmates were detained merely on charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Currently, the Tallahassee Police Department and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office allow their officers to use their own discretion on whether to make an arrest when faced with a case of minor possession of marijuana.
Their decision often depends on the context of the encounter.
“When we approach these cases, we take a look at the totality of the circumstances,” Melbourne Police Chief David Gillespie said of officers’ decisions.
Alternatively, officers can offer diversion programs or issue a notice to appear in court instead of making an arrest.
Diversion programs have been in place for over 20 years across Florida’s six-county 2nd Judicial Circuit. The programs offer first-time offenders the opportunity to avoid jail time or other punishment if they fulfill certain requirements.
City commissioners say they will reconsider making civil citations mandatory if the state or federal government changes its position on marijuana as an illegal drug.