BY ANDREAS BUTLER
There is a new marijuana law in effect that many people may not even know about yet.
The Volusia County Council unanimously approved an ordinance in March that went into effect on April 1.
The law makes possession of cannabis under 20 grams and drug paraphernalia a misdemeanor crime in unincorporated areas of the county and the beaches.
The measure also gives law enforcement the discretion to fine persons $100 instead of arresting them for such offenses.
It doesn’t decriminalize cannabis but gives the county the discretion to exercise its authority under state law.
“I think that our community as a whole has changed its position on marijuana. I think that our government should reflect it. Such cases should not clog the court system. Small amounts of marijuana aren’t worth spending so much of our public safety dollars on,” said Volusia County Councilman Joshua Wagner.
Wagner, an attorney, also spearheaded the drive for the legislation.
Impact on Blacks
The new ordinance also will have an effect on the Black community.
“We support this ordinance. It is in line with the policy of our national office that supports the decreasing of penalties for cannibals,” said Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP.
Although the ordinance calls for having fewer people put in jail, there are concerns that Blacks still will receive more fines and many won’t be able to pay due to the lack of employment and low-paying jobs in the area.
Enforcement of the ordinance is welcomed.
“If Daytona Beach and Volusia County focused on real stuff instead of bull crap, things would be better. People would follow laws and respect authorities. It is bull to arrest someone for a little bit of weed or weed paraphernalia whether in the privacy of their home or if caught with it by law enforcement when they are out in public,” said Volusia resident Terrell Thomas.
“Many people, especially Black people are in the county jail serving six months to a year for this. Many Blacks in this community are afraid to speak up on many issues. Laws are made for order, rules and control. They control us with all laws, including weed laws,” Thomas added.
Slater: Be fair
Slater is hoping for fairness with the new ordinance.
“The law needs to be colorblind. We do have concerns for the fine. They have put the discretion up to the officer. How will they determine who warrants a fine or arrest is critical. It needs to be fair across the board,” Slater explained.
“We know that African-Americans are three more likely to be stopped by law enforcement nationwide. We hope this ordinance is in line with what we believe it is,” she added.
Wagner is aware of such concerns.
“I think that it depends upon the person. The fine is significantly less expensive than criminal charges. You won’t go to jail for not paying it. The offense is absolutely civil and not criminal. I am working on amending it to make it clearer,” he told the Daytona Times.
Similar laws nationwide
The ordinance also is designed to bring the county along with other parts of the country.
Marijuana is being decriminalization in many states. Some states, counties and cities have similar laws in place that fine people instead of arresting them for being caught with small amounts of the drug.
“It is a small amount in the right direction. We can’t tell law enforcement or people what they should do. I think that if enough cities and counties do this we will see more states follow suit,” added Wagner.
The law doesn’t affect those caught driving with marijuana. Florida laws still prohibit people from using marijuana while driving.
People who are caught doing this are subject to driving under the influence (DUI) and driving within the influence (DWI) laws, which often carry heavy fines and long periods of driver’s license suspension.