Activists call on Orlando commissioner to support city's marijuana proposal


  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Orlando's City Council plans to take a final vote Monday on an ordinance that, if adopted, would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana and give police officers discretion to issue civil citations instead of arresting people. Although the measure passed the first time it was before the council, three commissioners, including Commissioner Sam Ings, voted against the measure. 

"People need to know and understand that this is making it easier," Ings said at the April 18 council meeting. "We should want criminals to stop being criminals, not making them feel confident to use and possess marijuana."

Now activists from Organize Now are calling on Ings to act "on behalf of his community" in an open letter written by the group's Racial Justice Committee co-chair Korey Wheeler. 

"District 6 encompasses a large African-American community directly impacted by the false 'war on drugs' narrative," the letter says. "His vote against deprioritization of minor marijuana offenses subjects many of his constituents to higher arrest rates than their white counterparts, and perpetuates negative stereotypes against the very community he represents."

The American Civil Liberties Union found in 2013 study that although black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate, black people were arrested nearly four times more for marijuana possession from 2001 to 2010. 

The letter continues: 
"Despite calls for action from his community, Ings proves he is more concerned with serving the interests of local tourism giants making millions of dollars a year than protecting his very people from discriminatory practices.

On three different occasions, Organize Now contacted Commissioner Ings for a meeting, but received no reply. Deprioritizing arrests for non-violent misdemeanors would free up our criminal justice system and address real public safety challenges in our community. It's time Commissioner Ings listened to his constituents and acted on behalf of his community.

Orlando should follow the lead of 24 states and hundreds of municipalities across the country, breaking away from false, fear-mongering rhetoric and shifting its focus to its real public safety challenges. By building on progress and investing into local programs tackling the underlying causes of crime with the money saved by eliminating incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession, we can come together to find solutions that help our communities."
The Orlando City Council will meet Monday, May 9 at 2 p.m. to vote on whether to adopt the measure. You can watch live here

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