SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - On Tuesday, the Sarasota City Commission approved an ordinance that decriminalizes marijuana in city limits. If police find someone with less than 20 grams of marijuana, they’ve been directed to only give them a citation.
Currently, violators face arrest, prison time and a revoked license.
Commissioners said the ordinance is an effort to free law enforcement agencies to address more serious crimes in our community.
There are people who support this and people who don’t.
“Almost 100 percent of the clients that come to us, the students that get referred to us, their primary drug of choice is marijuana," said P.J. Brooks, vice president of Outpatient and Youth Services for First Step of Sarasota.
It’s an addiction recovery center, but Brooks said recovery is not about the drug someone is addicted to.
“They don’t care what drug it is," he explained. "Their disease wants to be fed.”
The City Commissioners decided to approve the ordinance that shifts possession of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.
Brooks said this could help give people a second chance at life, but if they’re repeat offenders, he wants the community to focus on addressing the underlying issue here.
“It’s another drug that individuals are using," Brooks explained. "I think the very important thing in all of this is that we need to be looking at, not so much the drug as, is this person actually in need of treatment?”
The ordinance states violators will now pay a fine of $100 or complete 10 hours of community service if found with less than 20 grams of marijuana.
“The decriminalization is just another step and it’s an important step,” said Dr. Barry Gordon.
He’s the chief medical officer of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice said this ordinance is a step in the right direction.
“Many, many patients are out there everyday using cannabis and being better people using cannabis," Dr. Gordon said. "So there’s a misconception to that extent and that’s what we fight everyday.”
He pointed back to the importance of education.
“Each substance can be used safely," Gordon said. "Opiates of course, alcohol, cannabis being the safest among them.”
The Sarasota Police Department didn’t have anyone available to do an on-camera interview, but did send the following statement:
"The Sarasota Police Department will be reviewing the revised ordinance that passed at second reading on September 3, 2019 and developing a plan for implementation, in collaboration with the city attorney’s office.”
This ordinance is scheduled to go into effect three months from Tuesday.