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As Judge Calls Pot Laws “Harsh,” Sheriff and Public Defender Will Propose De-Criminalization Ordinance

| February 15, 2016

pot possession jim purdy public defender

Public Defender James Purdy spoke at length of the ruinous consequences of criminal records even for small-time pot users. (© FlaglerLive)

After he’d attended his last Public Safety Coordinating Council last week, and a few days shy of his retirement, Circuit Judge J. David Walsh spoke of marijuana laws candidly, describing them as “pretty harsh.” He was discussing a proposal last month by Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre to de-criminalize pot possession in small amounts, which would keep offenders from having a criminal record or suffer other steep consequences, from losing their driver’s license to n ot qualifying for mortgages down the road.

“I don’t have the problem with the intent here, which is to try to avoid harsh punishment,” Walsh said.

To that end, Manfre and Public Defender Jim Purdy, who also supports de-criminalization, will likely craft a proposal, possibly in the form of an ordinance based on those from three other counties that have de-criminalized pot possession in small amounts in Florida, and submit it to the Public Safety Coordinating Council to hash out. The council gathers top representatives from the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office, the public defender’s office, and all local law enforcement agencies under the chairmanship of a county commissioner (currently Barbara Revels) to discuss relevant local issues. The council has frequently been an incubator of ideas that turned into concrete action.

“I believe that the next step is to propose an ordinance that the county commission can consider, something that starts as a discussion point for the county commission,” Manfre said. “So now we need to create something tangible so maybe we can start here at the public safety coordinating council, before we take it to the commission, and get this round table’s input into it.” Revels, Manfre said, “can then move it to the county commission.”

Revels said she would support the approach, and addressed the matter at a Flagler County Commission meeting Monday evening. “Well, the sheriff is ready and Mr. Purdy, public defender, is ready, and state’s attorney will show up whenever we’;ve got something to show him,” she told the county administrator by way of direction to get the issue moving through the commission.

County administrator Craig Coffey said he’s awaiting “complete buy-in” from various participants and the outcome of legislation in Tallahassee before presenting a proposed ordinance to the commission for its buy-in.

State Attorney R.J. Larizza said last month in an interview that he favors making penalties for pot possession less harsh, but that he’d want to see an actual proposal first before endorsing it.

Purdy, the public defender, spoke at length for the first time about such a proposal in an interview, elaborating on consequences of criminal convictions that are currently in place, and that few people who aren’t prosecuted are aware of.

Broad agreement on the purpose behind de-criminalization, but no concrete proposal yet.

“I would like to see the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana,” Purdy said, preferring instead a civil citation program. “There’s so many bad things that happen to people in the justice system when they have a criminal charge, particularly a misdemeanor marijuana charge. They’re going to end up losing their driver’s license for two years, they have to pay for the cost of prosecution on their case, they have to pay for the application fee for a public defender and the attorney’s fee for a public defender, they have to pay for any treatment they’re required to go through, they have to pay court costs, and a lot of times the court costs will be reduced for people that are poor and have a public defender, will be reduced down to a civil judgment, and they never end up paying it. The problem that occurs is that if they are young and have a future ahead of them, five years or 10 years from now when they have a good job and they want to have a house, that civil judgment may prevent them from ever getting anywhere. It’ll prevent them from getting good credit, it’ll prevent them possibly from getting a mortgage, they may have to go back and pay it off with interest, I think it’s 10 percent now per year. It can snowball on them. Any time you’ve got these types of sanctions that can be resolved without the need for doing it criminally, I’d favor it, and it would reduce our case-load.”

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Manfre said the de-criminalization would lift a burden on defendants and on law enforcement, as it would reduce the need for deputies to
book individuals at the Flagler County jail, a laborious and time-consuming process. Instead, individuals may be cited and deputies can more swiftly return to patrolling. The approach would also lessen the jail population.

To Purdy, the approach would be especially beneficial to individuals. “I don’t think it’s so much a burden on the system as it is a burden on the defendant,” the public defender said. “It’s probably 10 to 20 percent of the case-load.”

Judge Walsh echoed the same concern, but with a caveat. Walsh, who’s presided over Drug Court for many years, doesn’t want to see de-criminalization as a way to make drug use less objectionable.

“I certainly appreciate the criminal justice side, the expense it takes to try, prosecute and defend all these cases involving small amounts of marijuana,” Walsh said. “In a general sense I would say, from my experience, especially in our drug program, most of the people in my drug courts have all begun with marijuana. So when you have a kid beginning to use marijuana at 14, 15 years of age, it’s not unusual to have them progress to worse drugs. The idea that you decriminalize it, I think it’s the term you’re using, it almost conveys to the kids that well, this is just like tobacco, even though it’s greater carcinogens, it can kill you from that standpoint and many more differences. So I think we have to be careful in how we phrase this. If it’s being handled in a non-criminal way, we want to avoid using terms such as, ‘it’s not that serious.’ It is serious, because you’re talking about—especially with young people—something that’s changing their whole lives if they progress to these prescription medications.” Walsh also cited the current increase in heroin use across the country.

Walsh said he is supportive of keeping individuals from having a criminal conviction, noting that prosecutors and public defenders often try to do just that with defendants. “But again I get back to the point: there has to be some consequence if the idea is to change behavior,” Walsh said. “To try to ensure people avoid the use of these things, they have to understand there’s a consequence to it.”

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10 Responses for “As Judge Calls Pot Laws “Harsh,” Sheriff and Public Defender Will Propose De-Criminalization Ordinance”

  1. wrong says:

    Walsh it’s sad you are a judge yet you spew lies and false facts, Marijuana is not a gateway drug. Many more young people use the drugs tobacco and alcohol before they smoke weed. And greater carcinogens than ciggerettes? ? That is absurd! and you wanna bring up heroin and pills? Talk to big pharmacy about that because marijuana has nothing to do with it. Clean up your act Judge.


    Dude. Don’t harsh my mellow!

  3. Shrimpley Pibbles says:

    Why decriminalize? Just don’t enforce them, or make it a $10 civil infraction. There are plenty of studies showing the gateway theory for cannabis is wrong, and barring a predisposition to some mental issues it’s almost entirely harmless. You’d have to eat kilograms of activated THC or smoke an entire field of cannabis in one sitting to hit the lethal dose, and most of all it doesn’t encourage violent behavior like alcohol can.

    Really, if you’re serious about your position make it practically a non-offence. Spend your time worrying about more serious issues.

  4. GoodFella says:

    Food for thought, why don’t parents be parents and watch and raise their children with morals. Maybe the parents of the 14 and 15 year old that are smoking should be held responsible and fined. Maybe then they would start acting like parents and teaching their children, unless they themselves are low lifes and using as well. What has this society come to? It all starts with weed, Palm Coast has a huge drug problem now and it starts with the kids smoking a little weed. They then move to laced weed, meth, pills, crack etc…….. Pretty soon Krokodil will move in and take over. Why don’t the sheriff start cutting the supply chain and cracking down on the dealers that have moved in to the county. A little detective work if used correctly will lead a long way if they actually hired and promoted real talent that actually cared. It all starts at the top! Fix the problem, don’t cover it up!

  5. Amazed says:

    So instead of doing the usual political ‘roll over” and jumping on the band wagon in order to ‘DE- CRIMALIZE marijuanna have the deputies destroy the confiscate the marijuanna or destroy it in the field. Have them notify radio dispatch and prepare a ‘pot in the pot” notice and give it to the offender instead of allowing the offender keep it and get ‘HIGH”.

    On the other hand now the politicians are looking forward to de-criminalizing marijuanna because they claim it drains the resources of law enforcement
    a whole host of questions arise that nobody is asking:

    1. How much pot will be legal to carry?
    2. How old will you have to be to possess it or use it, because if you’re going to be allowed to posses it it only stands to reason your going to be allowed to smoke it?
    3. Can it be posessed in and around schools, playgrounds, beaches, government buildings, churches ?
    4. If your allowed to possess it will you be allowed to give it to somebody?
    5. Since it will be basically ‘DE-CRIMINALIZED” can deputies, government employees and teachers ‘possess” it as well?

    I can keep going on and on, before we jump on the band wagon and change laws for ‘popularity” and ‘votes” let’s look into all the ramifications first.

  6. yankee says:

    you guys do understand the difference between de-criminalizing and legalizing, right?

    Its a HUGE difference, one that you should have a basic understanding of before posting…..

  7. Sherry says:

    Why should pot be treated any differently than beer/wine/hard liquor? We already have regulations in place for those substances. . . with some tweaking, we could use the same for marijuana. Legalize it and tax the hell out of it! Add the revenue to our education coffers. Learn the lesson from Colorado and the Netherlands. Prohibition of pot is not working. . . it’s only ruining people’s lives, and filling up our prisons, at tax payer expense!

  8. confidential says:

    Totally agree with Sherry…no different than liquors or cigarettes. Meanwhile we are promoting the drug lords with this illegality and paying what we can’t afford to the private prison system than not content to round up illegals and or suspected illegals and profiting from their imprisonment also incarcerate for personal amount use aka small possession. All about greedy profits other than treatment and resolving the drug addiction.

  9. Daniel Walker says:

    The use, possession, sale, cultivation, and transportation and edibility of cannabis (marijuana) is illegal under federal law in the United States. However, the federal government has articulated that if a state passes a law to decriminalize cannabis for recreational or medical use, they can do so, under the condition that a regulation system for cannabis is in place. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the highest classification under the legislation. This means that the substance has been claimed by the U.S. federal government to have both high abuse potential and no established medical use.

  10. Sherry says:

    In addition to HR 499, here’s just a sample of the recent bills introduced in Congress on this subject. . . Gee, wonder why they can’t get any traction with those complete “obstructionists”:

    H.R. 1635 (113th): National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep. Steve Cohen [D-TN9]
    Introduced: Apr 18, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Apr 18, 2013
    H.R. 3483 (113th): Protecting Individual Liberties and States’ Rights Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Jared Polis [D-CO2]
    Introduced: Nov 14, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Nov 14, 2013
    H.R. 5226 (113th): Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014
    Sponsor: Rep. Scott Perry [R-PA4]
    Introduced: Jul 28, 2014
    Referred to Committee: Jul 28, 2014
    H.R. 689 (113th): States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Earl Blumenauer [D-OR3]
    Introduced: Feb 14, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Feb 14, 2013
    H.R. 501 (113th): Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep. Earl Blumenauer [D-OR3]
    Introduced: Feb 5, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Feb 5, 2013
    H.R. 1523 (113th): Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA48]
    Introduced: Apr 12, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Apr 12, 2013
    H.R. 4498 (113th): Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act
    Sponsor: Rep. Morgan Griffith [R-VA9]
    Introduced: Apr 28, 2014
    Referred to Committee: Apr 28, 2014
    H.R. 2652 (113th): Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep. Ed Perlmutter [D-CO7]
    Introduced: Jul 10, 2013
    Referred to Committee: Jul 10, 2013

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