Lakeland commissioners decide not to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

AP file photo
AP file photo

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Marijuana laws are changing around the country, and Lakeland city commissioners came close to joining the movement Wednesday night.

Commissioners heard from experts on both sides of the marijuana decriminalization issue. The meeting at the Lakeland Civic Center lasted for nearly five hours.

Officials discussed what should happen to people who get caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Commissioners sought opinion as to whether these people should go to jail or just be ticketed.

In the end, commissioners decided not to take any action at all.

Chris Cano spoke on behalf of decriminalization.

“Be willing to give someone a ticket rather than lock them up in handcuffs,” said Cano, executive director of Central Florida NORML, a group that works to reform marijuana laws.

Cano’s father has terminal dementia and uses medical marijuana. Cano was once arrested for possession of pot for bringing it to his dad. “Going home every day and having it on you to get it for your dad, you worry about it. Is (it) the next time you’re going to get stopped?” he said.

Several dozen people addressed the council, and nearly all expressed support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Lakeland Police Department and Polk County State Attorney-elect Brian Haas spoke against decriminalization. Sheriff Grady Judd warned commissioners not to be fooled. He said this measure would mark a step toward legalizing pot.

“Just follow the law,” Judd told commissioners. “I didn’t write it. I didn’t make it. If you don’t like it, change it. Til then, follow the law.”

Even though possessing small amounts of marijuana is a crime in most of the state, Tampa and Orlando are among cities that have decriminalized it.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Floridians voted overwhelmingly in support of expanding medical marijuana use. In addition, voters in Massachusetts, California and Nevada said yes to legalizing pot for recreational use. It appears a similar measure will also pass in Maine.

Recreational marijuana is already legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

Cano said some cities are just behind the times. “Law enforcement leaders in other cities have been more forward thinking actually bringing this to their city councils while ours seem to be resisting it,” he said.

At the end of the meeting commissioners said they had more important issues facing the city.

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