Orlando commissioners narrowly approved a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana this evening. First time offenders will have to pay a $100 fine if found with less than 20 grams of the drug. The penalty will increase to $200 for second and third time offenders will have a mandatory court appearance. They will also have the choice of going to a substance recovery program.
The ordinance is meant to keep young adults caught with marijuana from going to jail and being charged for an offense that could permanently end up on their records. Chardo Richardson, head of central Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union, said the ordinance will keep minorities, in particular, from being incarcerated for minor offenses.
“It’s time to end the racial disparity when it comes to arresting for small amounts of marijuana possession, and this ordinance is a step in that direction," Richardson said.
More than a dozen Orlando residents, including businessman David Siegel, spoke before the commission took its final vote. Siegal, a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana, supports the ordinance but said it should have stricter penalties.
“If you tell these kids that marijuana is okay to use or pay $100 fine or it’s not a big a fine a jaywalking, you’re sending them the wrong message," Siegel said.
His daughter Victoria died of a prescription drug overdose. He plans to partially fund a substance recovery program that offenders would have the option of going to if caught with the drug. The rest of the money for the program will come from fines collected from the ordinance.
Commissioners and some residents expressed concern that the ordinance will send offenders the wrong message that it is okay to use the illegal drug.
The ordinance is set to take effect on Oct. 1.