A Florida City Ordinance Decriminalizes Marijuana, Takes Step Toward Stopping Prohibition in Practice

PORT RICHEY, Fla. (Sept. 28, 2016) – Earlier this month, the Port Richey city council voted to decriminalize marijuana within their city limits, a big step to block prohibition in practice within the city.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, under the new ordinance, city police will no longer arrest people caught in possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. Instead, police will levy a fine of $155. The ordinance passed by a close 3-2 vote after a heated debate within the community.

"The vote was not without contentious debate as dozens of people spoke for or against the ordinance during previous informational hearings and a first reading of the ordinance. The council vote was split, with Mayor Dale Massad and council members Jennifer Sorrell and Will Dittmer in favor. Massad argued the ordinance will offer a one-time reprieve to people whose records would be damaged by an arrest for possessing a small amount of marijuana and free up police to deal with more pressing crime.

Vice Mayor Terry Rowe and Nancy Britton opposed the ordinance, fearing it will encourage drug dealing and use in the city."

Ordinances such as these are apart of a nation-wide trend of cities taking policy-making into their own hands instead of settling for the federally-driven status quo. The anti-commandeering doctrine, taken down to a local level, can be very effective in chipping away at federal prohibition.

The Supreme Court has long held that the federal government cannot force states to assist with implementation of enforcement of federal acts or programs. When states refuse to cooperate with federal enforcement, it makes it extremely difficult for the feds to assert their will. This has proved particularly true when it comes to marijuana. State legalization of weed and the end of state enforcement stops federal prohibition in practice.

FBI statistics reveal law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. The federal government simply lacks the resources to enforce its marijuana laws on its own. They need a great deal of help from the lower levels of government, or their schemes go up in flames. We’ve seen this play out in every state that has legalized marijuana for medical or general use.

Strategically, this kind of local action can have an impact at the state level in the same way state action has impacted the feds. If enough cities and counties in Florida decriminalize marijuana, it could conceivably stifle state law to at least some degree. As more and more political subdivisions implement similar policies, it will increase pressure to change the law at the state level. When the state decriminalizes marijuana, it will thwart federal prohibition in effect, just as it has in other states.

This is a powerful strategy we can use to rein in federal overreach with a total bottom up approach, starting at the local level, and then working up through the state, ultimately eroding federal power completely away.