A soon-to-be-released poll shows surprising support in St. Petersburg for decriminalizing marijuana.
StPetePolls.org claims nearly 70 percent of respondents said "yes" when they were asked: "Would you support making the possession of small amounts of marijuana a non-criminal offense if it would free up police resources and raise money for the city?"
"To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I really didn't think we'd see 69.8 percent in favor of this," pollster Matt Florell told FOX 13 News.
Florell said he got the idea for including the question when he attended a recent meeting of community activists. The discussion focused on ways for the city of St. Petersburg to offset declining property tax revenues.
"I'm certainly not advocating for this or really even in favor of this because I really haven't done the research myself," Florell pointed out.
However, he outlined the arguments in favor of decriminalization: Arrests for small quantities of marijuana consume a lot of the arresting officer's time while generating little revenue. Issuing civil citations would consume much less time and fines for personal possession of pot would become a new revenue stream.
In recent weeks, both the governor of the state of New York and the mayor of New York City have proposed similar reforms.
"We thought it was a very topical question to ask in our poll," Florell continued. "I think it kind of shows...there are quite a few people here in the city of St. Petersburg that are not opposed to lightening up the penalties on marijuana."
Ironically, Florell set up StPetePolls.org last year to measure public sentiment for using cameras to cite drivers who run red traffic lights, and decriminalizing marijuana parallels the same philosophy. The cameras generate far more citations than a flock of police officers, but the camera cases are civil violations, not moving traffic violations that go against a driver's license.
Florell claims he has never been cited for running a red light and has never smoked marijuana.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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