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Across US, City Councils Weigh Marijuana Ordinances

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While much attention is being paid to marijuana policy reforms working their way through state legislatures or being circulated for statewide ballots, city councils across the country are increasingly considering changes to cannabis polices at the local level. And these municipal efforts often create momentum that helps propel broader statewide changes.

For example, the Tampa, Florida City Council voted Thursday to decriminalize possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana, making it a civil citation punishable by a $ 75 fine for first-time offenders instead of an offense resulting in a criminal record. Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who supports the measure, still has to officially sign off before it goes into effect. The change follows recent county-wide marijuana decriminalization policies enacted recently in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Also on Thursday, councilmembers in New Orleans are set to vote on a proposed ordinance that would allow police officers to dole out reduced penalties for cannabis possession. Under the measure, first-time offenders could receive verbal warnings. Second-time offenses could be met with written warnings. Third-time offenders could get a $ 50 fines and subsequent offenses could result in $ 100 fines.

And next week, the City Council in Urbana, Illinois, will consider a measure to reduce the fine for possessing small amounts of marijuana from the current level of $ 300 to just $ 5.

While locally-enacted reforms sometimes do not have broad immediate impact because of overarching state prohibitions that remain in effect and which police can in some cases choose to enforce instead of the ordinances, they do have far-reaching political impacts that can propel further change.

Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project told Marijuana.com that such efforts “send a message to elected officials at all levels, as well as to the media and the public. They can foster a public dialogue that results in people learning more about marijuana and the benefits of reform. We tend to find that the more people learn about it, the more likely they are to support it.”

Indeed, Tvert himself helped to lead local decriminalization efforts in several Colorado cities and towns that preceded the ultimate statewide legalization of marijuana in 2012.

He also said that in many cases the local changes do protect marijuana consumers from penalties they would otherwise endure.

“A local decriminalization measure could directly result in thousands of people being issued citations for marijuana possession instead of being arrested and potentially spending time in jail,” he said.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett

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