Talk of the Town: Drug abuse and marijuana decriminalization in Palm Beach County

At the fourth annual Drug Abuse Summit, held recently at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, prominent members of the healthcare and law enforcement communities, scientists, elected officials, educators and other community leaders discussed current local trends in mental health and substance abuse with a room full of concerned citizens and community partners. The event was broken into three different panel discussions, each exploring a different topic including stigmas, the role of the media and next steps locally.

“As a committed community partner, it is our responsibility to initiate and continue conversations about the current state of mental health and substance abuse in our communities,” said Kae Jonsons, CEO of Hanley Center Foundation. “Part of Hanley Center Foundation’s mission is focused on substance abuse prevention efforts, which includes collaborating with other like-minded organizations. We are grateful to our co-hosts and the esteemed panelists, who also recognize the importance of collaboration and prevention. This year was our most successful event yet and it is our hope that these conversations continue to lead to improved awareness and community education.”

The half-day discussion was free and open to the public, thanks to co-hosts GL Homes, Hanley Center Foundation, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and The Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation. Florida Power & Light Company was the presenting sponsor.

“Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience has been proud to play a role in the annual Drug Abuse Summit,” said Barbara Suflas Noble, Max Planck Foundation CEO. “Our institute is committed not only to our research, which will lead to a better understanding of debilitating disease, but also to community outreach and engagement, leading to a more informed and better educated public.”

The event took place just before the historic decision by the Palm Beach County Commission which, in a 4-1 decision on Tuesday December 15, decriminalized marijuana usage in the county. The law in the Palm Beaches now mirrors that of West Palm Beach and Miami, who also have decriminalized pot. 000000000000jaguar-unbraco-2

“We have to understand that we cannot legislate and lock up everybody for everything they do,” commissioner Priscilla Taylor said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Commissioner Steven Abrams also supported the ordinance.

“For someone who is caught with a small amount of marijuana, I think it’s worth it in order to not mess up that person’s life,” he said.

This ordinance doesn’t legalize marijuana – it just reduces the penalties for those caught with it.

It gives law enforcement an alternative – rather than make an arrest, now they can give a $100 fine.

Instead of paying the fine, the offender can choose to do 10 hours of community service.

The ordinance only covers offenders 18 and over, and an offender can receive a maximum of two citations.

Advocates say offenders – especially younger people – deserve a second chance.

Commissioner Hal Valeche served as the lone dissenting vote.

“You’ve gotta have pretty firm and hard guidelines as to how you chose which one to do,” Valeche stated. “Otherwise I think you open yourself up to claims that you’re treating different individuals differently.”

According to statistics cited by the county commission, between 2010 and 2014, more than 7,500 cases in the county involved possession of 20 grams of marijuana or less. In In 90% of the cases, the person involved ended up in the jail – the remaining 10% received a citation or a notice to appear.

“The civil citation creates a challenge to fair and impartial policing,” stated Chief Dan Alexander of the Boca Raton Police Department. “How are decisions made about whether to issue a civil citation or make an arrest? At some point, there will be scrutiny as to disparate treatment for certain groups of people. The process creates unnecessary layers, requiring new mechanisms for tracking and for prosecuting the citations. Additionally, we have successful diversionary programs in place, such as drug court. If legislation changes, we will adapt in accordance with any new requirements.”

For more information about the Palm Beach County Drug Abuse Summit or other Hanley Center Foundation events, please visit or send an email inquiry to [email protected].