Atlantic Beach, Orlando and Tallahassee Have Joined Jacksonville Beach.
A longtime effort to decriminalize marijuana possession in Jacksonville Beach has expanded to Atlantic Beach, as well as to Orlando and Tallahassee.
The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy launched the Atlantic Beach effort last month after advocates saw that many people who wanted to sign a Jacksonville Beach petition couldn’t because they lived in Atlantic Beach, said committee Chairman Ford Banister.
“It seemed like we could do it just as easily and it’s close by,” Banister said.
The committee is collecting signatures to place the marijuana decriminalization amendment on the November ballot in the four cities. If voters approve the amendment, it would make possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor crime, for which state law calls for up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Since the fall, marijuana advocates have shifted gears and are working through the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, a political action committee that successfully lobbied for marijuana decriminalization laws in Massachusetts. Banister said the committee provides greater resources for advocates than the movement’s original sponsor, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
One of the reasons the group took its campaign to Tallahassee is because of the case involving Rachel Hoffman, a Florida State University graduate who was murdered while acting as a police informant during a botched drug sting in May 2008, Banister said.
Hoffman had been busted by Tallahassee police and was promised a reduced sentence if she agreed to wear a wire and set up a deal with her suppliers to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine and a handgun. The case triggered the first law in the nation that requires law enforcement agencies to establish safeguards when using informants.
Banister said the committee is also stressing a Marijuana is Safer than Alcohol campaign that asserts that marijuana is less addictive, less toxic and less likely to lead to violence than alcohol.
Last summer, when marijuana advocates chose Jacksonville Beach as the first city in Florida to decriminalize marijuana use, they selected a town that has resisted them for at least a decade.
The conflicts date back to six years ago, when coordinators of a Hempfest at the SeaWalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach were arrested and five years before that, when Hempfest organizers sued Jacksonville Beach and won a court order forcing the city to drop the phrase “family-oriented events” from its special events permit.
Jacksonville Beach Mayor Fland Sharp has scoffed at the proposal, saying similar proposals may float in California, Massachusetts, or even Denver, where marijuana reform measures have passed, but not in his town.
“It’s a moot point because it’s never going to happen,” he said.
Banister said the atmosphere in Jacksonville Beach has improved and that police officers have been respectful of decriminalization groups’ protests and a November signature-gathering campaign by college students. Marijuana advocates are also knocking on doors to speak with residents and urge them to sign the petition, he said.
The group has collected about 300 of the 1,442 petition signatures needed to place the amendment on the ballot in Jacksonville Beach. In Atlantic Beach, the committee would need to get about 1,000 signatures, Banister said. So far, they have gotten 50 signatures there, he said this week.
Banister said he’s confident the committee will get the support it needs through citizen education and participation.
“I think we should be able to with the campaign invasions we’ve planned,” he said. “I think we can make it.”
By Caren Burmeister