City of Lakeland discusses decriminalizing pot

- The city of Lakeland is now one of the Florida cities considering decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

So far, Tampa and five other cities have done it and St. Petersburg is considering following suit.

Monday, Lakeland city commissioners held their first workshop to discuss the prospect of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Anyone caught with 20 grams or less would get a civil citation and pay a fine, rather than get a misdemeanor criminal charge on their record.

Lakeland City Commissioner Justin Troller, who happens to be a teacher and an athletic director at Lakeland High School, brought up the issue for discussion, but he'll have to win over Mayor Howard Wiggs who is against decriminalization, along with Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens. "I can't help but feel that by decriminalizing it that we're showing that it might be less important or we're showing our children or young adults that we don't take it as serious," said Chief Giddens.

"Each community has addressed it differently to what they think is appropriate for their area, and so I'm looking forward to Lakeland having that conversation to see what's best for us. And we may decide to do nothing, or we may decide to at least have a more in depth conversation," Troller said.

Troller said the city's current marijuana possession law punishes young people for what he calls a "simple mistake," making it difficult for them to get a job or get into many colleges.

Other cities, like Tampa, that have already changed the law say arresting people for simple possession of pot takes up too much of police officers' time and clogs up the legal system. 

Monday's meeting concluded with commissioners asking the city attorney, police department, and state attorney to put together reports looking at current arrest and prosecution data and possible consequences of letting people walk away with a fine.

After those reports are complete, commissioners will hold another workshop and also public hearings.

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