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Jacksonville Considers Lesser Charges for Small Amounts of Marijuana
Currently, getting caught by police in Jacksonville with 2.5 grams or less of marijuana, means getting charged with misdemeanor and potentially hundreds of dollars in fines.
The idea here is to change that to an ordinance violation and a $50 fine--at least for first offenders.
"Say a 16- or 17-year-old gets caught with a small amount," Jacksonville resident Anthony Stephens said. "They're arrested, they're taken to jail, they're given a $750 fine. This would allow the police to give them a city ordinance violation, let their parents take them home and deal with the punishment themselves."
Stephens led a petition drive to get the Jacksonville City Council to take up this issue.
He said it's partly because the town has three colleges, and one of the first questions on a financial aid application is whether a student has any drug convictions.
"Lots of times these are kids that just have one violation," Stephens said. "Maybe it was at a party when they were 15, 16 years old. But that stays with them on their record, and impacts their ability to go to college, and it impacts their ability to get a job."
This would affect a large number of the drug arrests in Jacksonville.
"Last year, we made 169 marijuana arrests," police chief Tony Grootens said. "I would say the majority of those were 2.5 and under, so well over 100 of the arrests would be 2.5 or less."
Grootens tells us it could save his department money.
"In the state court system, we have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," Grootens said. "So your threshold is lower in city court, because all that takes is a preponderance of the evidence. So you don't have to take the marijuana to the state crime lab to have it tested for it being marijuana. You could do a field test, would be acceptable in city court."
The matter will be considered by the Jacksonville Public Protection Committee on October 10, which could then recommend an ordinance for the full city council to vote on.
We also contacted Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard. He said at this point he has no comment on the idea.
Reporting in Jacksonville, Mike Brooks, ABC News Channel 20.