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Bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana likely dead for this year

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A Senate proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana was temporarily postponed, effectively putting an end to any hopes that legislators would act on the legislation this year.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, the Lake Worth Democrat sponsoring the bill (SB 1662), asked that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee temporarily postponed the measure after a 15-minute discussion Monday.

While Clemens said he was thankful that Sen. Randolph Bracy, the committee’s chairman, decided to hear the bill, he said he knew that there was “virtually zero chance” of it passing the Legislature this year.

A similar proposal (HB 1403) by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has not received a hearing in the House. If Clemens’ bill had passed the committee, it still would have needed to clear two more committees — the Judiciary and Rules committees — before it made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

“I’m encouraged we’re able to have this discussion,” said Clemens. “We are in Week 7 right now, and this is the first committee this bill was to be heard in. It has not gotten a hearing in the House, meaning that there is virtually zero chance of this bill passing this year.”

The bill would have made possession of one ounce or less of cannabis — described as a “personal use quantity — would be a civil violation, rather than a misdemeanor.

Under the proposal, a person over the age of 18 who knowingly possesses an ounce of marijuana or less would be assessed a civil violation of no more than $100. Juveniles would be ordered to complete up to 15 hours of community service.

Sens. Dennis Baxley and Rob Bradley both expressed concerned about the proposal.

“When I see a bill like this, I understand where Sen. Clemens is coming from, but I’m not prepared to go as far as this bill goes,” said Bradley. “I appreciate the discussion.”

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