folio politics

Guns & Weed

How hot will summer get?

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City Hall is going into that weird semi-animated state it enters during the summer, with budget being hammered out by the Mayor’s Office, and with people leaving and entering the Council. It’s a transitional time. However, it’s a time when things of real import are happening.

One such issue: Councilmember Garrett Dennis’ bill to decriminalize possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis. Police officers, such as the one behind you with his high beams on full blast, would have discretion to not arrest you but issue a civil citation. As Shelton Hull noted in his May 15 Folio Weed column, it’s an uphill battle for Dennis. The mayor won’t do business. Sheriff Mike Williams doesn’t want this discretion, even though Dennis has basically said that JSO was moving this direction anyway.

Council is a bit more open-minded. Dennis’ fellow Democrat Joyce Morgan may co-sponsor. Republicans like Greg Anderson are willing to listen. Are there 10 votes? I’m not sure. Council President Aaron Bowman thinks legal cannabis is inevitable, but he sees holes in this particular bill. And Bill Gulliford, whose crusade of late has been trying to stop opioid overdose deaths, envisions a scenario where street dealers cut the herb with fentanyl.

Dennis isn’t necessarily a canna-crusader, but he’s tired of his constituents’ lives being ruined because of some possession rap. It’s a laudable position, though it avoids certain realities.

There is a strong case to be made against the black market, and ironically it rests in the medical community with mostly older users, whose aches and pains and maladies come with age. That product is as corporatized and reliable as one could want. The “seed-to-sale” tracking used in Florida dictates real accountability. And the profit margins are such that there is the capital to abide by the regulatory guidelines. A solution to the issue of compromised product could be either an expansion of the list of qualifying conditions for a Florida card, or a regulated adult-use market outside the medical system.

That would be a Tallahassee move, however (and one that probably happens only if a ballot initiative somehow makes the 2020 slate, passes with more than 60 percent, and then gets gutted by so-called “implementing legislation.”)

Dennis’ bill is a half-measure, but the kind of thing that kicks off conversations. Even if the argument could be made that deemphasizing weed busts would help increase the murder clearance rate and stop the blood tide of Duval homicide, it probably wouldn’t fly from Dennis. Because of the nature of the political game, it’s hard to see players like Lenny Curry and Aaron Bowman letting him get a win.

He might as well float the idea, though. This is a do-or-die summer for local leaders, with the rollout of the new Crime Gun Intelligence Center. The acting ATF director was in town, and she and locals (Curry, Williams, State Attorney Melissa Nelson) lauded the CGIC as a game-changer. The question, however, is when will the game change and what will the change look like?

“You can absolutely expect improvement, but in terms of X percentage, no, not at this point,” Williams allowed.

Jacksonville’s homicide clearance rate is among the lowest in the state. The murder rate, meanwhile, is going to be up year over year, despite four years of public safety spending and political spin.

“Slight increases ... last year we saw a slight dip, this year we’re up a little bit,” Curry said. “But we’ve stopped the hemorrhaging.”

The ATF director couldn’t tell me any specific examples of actual improvements driven by these investments in other cities. The tools should help with functions like identifying bullets and tracking their sources, especially useful given the lack of cooperation with police in the most violent neighborhoods. The gunmen are mostly part of a small group. The narcotics trade is an economic engine for this activity.
Et cetera. Et cetera.

The only local pol to face the voters anytime soon is Melissa Nelson, and it’s clear she will have the money and political machine behind her. Assuming she draws an opponent at all, though, one might expect the argument to be along the lines of “the machine couldn’t keep us safe.” Not that it will fly any better than #CurryCrimeWave. But that’s the play to make.

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