Does the punishment fit the crime?
That’s the question taking center stage in Lakeland as commissioners consider the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, following in the footsteps of other nearby cities like Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.
“There’s no one up here I don’t think that is advocating for the use of marijuana,” said Commissioner Justin Troller, who first brought up the topic for discussion.
“I would say a large portion of folks are for it,” he later told ABC Action News, referring to the dozens of calls and e-mails he has received.
The proposal in Lakeland would make it a civil citation for pot smokers who get caught the first time. That means violators pay a fee and they’re done.
Supporters say it’s much better than a misdemeanor on your record that can prevent young adults from taking out loans and going to college.
Gabrielle Beall says that’s an even harsher penalty than what the drunk driver got who nearly killed her.
“The driver who was drunk and hit me was able to apply for a grant through the state of Florida and he is able to further his education,” Beall said.
In other words — at least in her experience — a drunk driver is now better off than some teens caught smoking weed.
“It’s really unfair,” she said.
Last year, LPD reports it made a total of 350 arrests for people using marijuana — that’s up from the 278 arrests in 2014.
Chief Larry Giddens opposes the idea of decriminalization, struggling primarily with the message it’s sending.
“We’re telling our children or young adults that we don’t take it as serious,” he said. “I think that’s a step in the wrong direction.”
Commissioners requested more information and data, along with input from the public before making a final decision.