Two St. Pete mayoral candidates would consider decriminalizing marijuana in the city

07/03/13 Janelle Irwin
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Two St. Petersburg mayoral candidates said they would consider making marijuana offenses civil rather than criminal in the city. During a debate last week, three candidates weighed in on issues of race. Former state representative Rick Kriseman most strongly supports decriminalizing marijuana use and possession.

“If we can redirect and give that young person an opportunity to make a change in a life and not destroy their life by putting them a record, whether or it’s the arrest or a misdemeanor, it’s something we ought to give a really hard look at doing and I’m really excited about the idea of doing that.”

Kriseman was responding to a question from St. Pete resident and racial equality activist Kurt Donley. Donley said there are three policies he describes as racist that a courageous mayor could do something about.

“The first one is Governor Scott’s felony disenfranchisement policies. It has almost 25% of the black population in St. Petersburg barred from voting. Would you be willing to let all citizens in St. Pete vote on city matters?

“The second one, we have police officers stationed in our schools. Historically that tends to increase the likelihood of minorities going to prison not going to higher education. Would you be willing to put veterans in their place?

“Next, marijuana prohibition was racist in its inception and it’s, unfortunately racist in its enforcement right now. In St. Pete it’s a five to one arrest disparity ratio of blacks verses whites which is 20% worse than the national average. Ninety percent of Americans don’t even believe that should be a jailed offense anymore. Other cities in Florida have established a civil, non-criminal citation both for adults and for children. Would you be willing to establish that quickly in St. Pete and possibly make marijuana enforcement their lowest law enforcement priority?”

The debate was sponsored, in part, by the St. Pete NAACP and candidates emphasized their commitments to low income and minority communities. All three candidates, Rick Kriseman, Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster, were on board with implementing a policy allowing convicted felons whose rights have not been restored vote in city elections

“Whatever we need to do to try and expand voting and make it as accessible and easy for our citizens I think is what we ought to be looking at doing.”

“I think whatever we can do to restore rights to those who have served their time I think is appropriate. If folks have served their time and they have been rehabilitated than they should have their rights restored.”

“I think yes on the voting.”

On the other hand, Foster wasn’t on board with decriminalizing marijuana, but he did say he’d be willing to look at putting veterans in schools in lieu of police officers.

“If there is a program that puts incredible veterans who have sacrificed everything for our freedom into schools to mentor, to protect, to be eyes and ears, I would love a program like that.”

Ford, a former nurse turned lawyer, also said she would consider decriminalizing marijuana possession in the city.

“I have concerns about drug use, but I don’t – I know how well marijuana works for folks who have cancer and so it has beneficial properties. I don’t like to see kids high. I don’t want something that gives anybody the impression that it’s ok, it’s just a whatever, but I think we’ve got to look at that because we do know the consequence of having a record, so I would certainly consider it.”

Both Ford and Kriseman also said they would support returning the city to a community policing model to cut back on car chases and officer involved shootings in African-American communities. Two other candidates were not invited to the debate – Paul Congemi and Anthony Cates.

Previous debate coverage

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