The Orlando City Council voted Monday to approve a marijuana decriminalization ordinance.
- Police officers could issue citations rather than make arrests
- Ordinance will take effect in October
- Tampa passed similar ordinance earlier this year
The measure passed final approval with a vote of 4-3. The City Council passed the measure, 4-3, on first reading last month.
City leaders revised the new ordinance, doubling fines for first-time offenders to $100.
Regardless, anti-drug advocates believe the new ordinance sends the wrong message.
"They're making possession of two fistfuls of marijuana a slap on the wrist," said David Siegel, an anti-drug advocate. "This is better than it was last time, but it's not nearly strong enough."
Korey Wheeler, who serves as the racial justice co-chair for Organize Now, added: "I'm just glad it passed. It was a lot of hard work. We've been working for this for almost a year."
The measure makes possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana (about two-thirds of an ounce) a code violation.
"Sending wrong messages," Siegel said. "It's telling kids that you're better off having drugs in your possession than jaywalking."
Orlando Police will now have discretion to issue a citation rather than make an arrest. A first offense would be punishable with a $100 fine, a second offense with a $200 fine and a third offense would result in a mandatory court appearance.
"We can quickly give that person a code violation and then direct our resources to more serious crimes," Orlando Police Chief John Mina said last month during the first reading.
Sheriff Jerry Demings also supports the ordinance and told commissioners earlier this year that if Orlando passes it, all of Orange County should, too.
Both Volusia County and the city of Tampa passed similar ordinances earlier this year, giving law enforcement the option to ticket or arrest someone with less than 20 grams.
St. Petersburg is also considering a similar proposal.
Mina and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer think the spirit of the law is to give young people who have made a mistake a second chance without creating a criminal record.
Advocates for the ordinance said it also means racial justice since statistics show marijuana usage between African-Americans and whites is about the same. Nationally, however, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
"I'm just relieved," Wheeler said. "It was a lot of discussion up there, you know back and forth ... what's right and what can we do to fix the city."
Siegel said he lost his daughter to a drug overdose. He has made it his mission to educate and advocate for tougher drug laws.
"They added counseling to it as an option or community service, but not mandatory," he said. "Someone could pay the fine $100 and do nothing."
The new law will go into effect in October.