Lakeland officials discussing marijuana decriminalization

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LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Another Tampa Bay area city could be following Tampa’s lead when it comes to weed.

Lakeland Commissioners held a roundtable discussion on Monday to discuss lessening the punishment for having a small amount of marijuana.

Various stakeholders weighed in on the issue including city commissioners and Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens.

“This is a conversation that needs to happen,” said City of Lakeland Commissioner Justin Troller, who spearheaded the conversation. “As an educator, I teach youth to make the right decisions everyday. I see the long-term consequences of this everyday. Kids trying to get into colleges with this on their criminal records.”

Troller said he was taking the lead after seeing other cities in Florida like Miami and Tampa implement changes. “Lakeland is a progressive city,” he said.

“This is not Tampa, this is not Orlando, this is Lakeland,” said Commissioner Phillip Walker. “I am interested in hearing what out law enforcement have to say.”

In Lakeland, there were 244 arrests last year for small amounts of marijuana, according to Chief Giddens. “People are usually given a notice to appear before a judge on their criminal charges, they aren’t hauled off to jail,” he said.

A small amount would be 20 grams or less according to Chief Giddens, who has been outspoken against the idea, “It’s troubling to me as a parent and an officer to decriminalize marijuana. This is not people looking for medical relief, this is people looking to get high. If we decriminalize marijuana, what is next? Heroin?”

“We are not advocating for legalization, just advocating for common sense punishment,” said Commissioner Troller.

If implemented, instead of criminal charges, a fine, and appearing before a judge, which residents currently face, those caught with pot would likely pay a ticket, similar to how a parking ticket is handled.

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