In split vote, Port Richey council votes to decriminalize marijuana possession

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PORT RICHEY — Marijuana activist and local businessman Garyn Angel was nothing short of elated after the Port Richey City Council became the first government body in Pasco County to decriminalize the possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana.

After many weeks of debate, the council passed an ordinance on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night that will allow police the discretion to issue a $155 civil citation in lieu of an arrest on a criminal misdemeanor charge for possessing less than 20 grams of pot, as long as the offender is age 18 or older and not engaged in any other simultaneous crime.

Angel, who owns the company Magical Butter — an internationally successful Port Richey business specializing in the manufacture of machines that extract plant oils he markets to customers seeking to make marijuana edibles — spearheaded the lobbying effort that led to the council's consideration of the ordinance.

On Tuesday night, Angel stood in front of City Hall with Port Richey's seal behind him to celebrate the vote, making a speech to a two-man video crew he employs. It went out on Facebook Live to his followers, who he said number in the hundreds of thousands. He clapped his hands, praised his hometown and offered that his efforts are proof that activism on marijuana issues can work. He urged his followers to "pick up the phone" and "get off the couch" to get involved.

"Now is the time!" he chanted.

The vote was not without contentious debate as dozens of people spoke for or against the ordinance during previous informational hearings and a first reading of the ordinance. The council vote was split, with Mayor Dale Massad and council members Jennifer Sorrell and Will Dittmer in favor. Massad argued the ordinance will offer a one-time reprieve to people whose records would be damaged by an arrest for possessing a small amount of marijuana and free up police to deal with more pressing crime.

Vice Mayor Terry Rowe and Nancy Britton opposed the ordinance, fearing it will encourage drug dealing and use in the city.

By Tuesday night, there was little debate, as no one from the public or on the council spoke.

"That was easier than I thought it was going to be," Massad said with a grin.

After his speech, Angel told the Tampa Bay Times he will now continue to lobby Pasco County commissioners to lift a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensary businesses, which the board extended last month to Dec. 31. In extending the moratorium, however, the commission vowed to hold a workshop to discuss the issue further.

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