Bill to decriminalize marijuana in Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Five counties and eight cities in the state have passed laws decriminalizing "personal use" amounts of marijuana. A bill scheduled to be heard in a state senate committee would decriminalize pot in the rest of the state.

With medical marijuana's sweeping victory in November, it's clear public opinion on the drug has shifted. The question now is, just how far are legislators willing to go?

Ordinances passed in some of Florida's biggest cities like Tampa, Orlando and Miami-Dade County make activists think decriminalization may be on the horizon.

"Right now we have millions of people who are living under one law and millions more who are living under a different law," said Jodi James from the Florida Cannabis Action Network.

They say right now penalties for marijuana offenses are too high.
"You don't have to throw people in jail, ruin their lives over something that's maybe an adolescent or a juvenile or a young adult mistake," said Jeff Sharkey from Medical Marijuana Business Association.

A Senate bill scheduled for a hearing would make possession of under an ounce of marijuana a first degree misdemeanor. The penalty would be a $100 fine. "And it's going to make sure that we're saving tax payers money in the long run because really, no one wants to send someone to jail for a small amount of marijuana," explains James.

The bill treats minors differently. There is no fine, just 15 hours of community service and the completion of a drug awareness program and notifying the parents.

"We want to send kids the message that it's not okay, but that if they do do something to break the law that we still want them to be able to prosper," James said.

Advocates say they're excited the idea is even getting a hearing.
"There have been many many bills proposed, but it's never had a hearing. So this is a major step forward to end prohibition," said Melissa Villar with NORML Tallahassee.

Lawmakers did discuss the bill, but no vote was taken, making decriminalization likely dead this year, but advocates believe the hearing was a step into the future.

Tuesday, supporters will advocate for the house's medical marijuana bill as it comes up for a committee hearing.