BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The New Smryna Beach City Commission passed a city ordinance Tuesday night making possession of marijuana less than 20 grams a misdemeanor violation.
The commission passed the measure with a 3-2 vote with Mayor Jim Hathaway and Commissioner Judy Reiker voting against it.
The ordinance goes into effect immediately. The city’s police department now has the discretion to ticket offenders and fine them up to $103 instead of taking them to jail.
“Our take on this is it’s just another option for us to use and gives us another tool out there,” said.
Lt. Steve Riggle, spokesman for the New Smyrna Beach Police Department.
‘A great move’
Proponents of the measure feel it will help free up law enforcement to deal with more serious crimes.
Community leaders are receptive of the measure.
“I think it was needed. They are offering for under a certain amount a citation rather than jail time.
I think when you arrest people in these situations that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. I am highly in favor of it,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Dove, pastor of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in New Smyrna Beach.
Resident Shyriaka Morris, who runs the P.E.A.C.E. Arts program for youth, offered, “I think it’s a great move, especially for the Black community in regards to recreational use of marijuana.”
She also is a member of the New Smyrna Beach NAACP and was recently elected its first vice president.
Morris still has questions about the law.
She poses, “I still want to know what happens if you don’t pay or can’t pay the fine? Will community service be an option, including classes on critical thinking, being aware of the law, and how it impacts your life if you’re found on the wrong side of it?”
Law enforcement believes the new ordinance could be useful.
“We’ve had 70 events of incidents with possession last year where this law could have been used.
Still, it’s not an actual decriminalization, but it gives a person the option of handling it right here in New Smyrna,” Riggle explained.
The Volusia County Council passed a similar measure, which has been in effect since last year.
The county measure gives law enforcement the discretion to fine trespassers $100 with under 20 grams instead of arresting them.
“This new city ordinance also puts us in line with what the county is doing. I think all the cities should flow that way,” added Dove.
Florida law states that marijuana possession of 20 grams or less is a first-degree misdemeanor under state law. The maximum punishment is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
Across the nation and in other Florida municipalities, decriminalization of marijuana laws are being put in place.
Florida counties like Alachua, Miami-Dade, Broward and Osceola also have similar measures.
Major Florida cities, including Miami, Orlando and Tampa, also have similar laws.