Florida state senators in the Criminal Justice Committee are weighing a measure that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Sunshine State.
If passed, violators would receive a civil citation instead of facing arrest. Possession of less than one ounce would be considered a first-degree misdemeanor, for which the penalty would be a $100 fine.
Similar measure have been undertaken by local governments, including Broward County. In 2015, Broward County Commissioners gave law enforcement agencies the option of issuing a $150 citation to those who were caught for the first time with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Second-time offenders would have to pay $250 and third-time offenders would be charged $500. After three arrests for this same offense, it would be considered a crime. However, officers still have the choice to make an arrest, which is exactly what officers have opted to do in the majority of instances. Fort Lauderdale, however, opted out of that program.
Miami-Dade passed a similar ordinance that is estimated to save the county $40,000 annually, according to the Broward New Times. Palm Beach County also passed a similar measure, giving offenders the option to either pay a $100 fine or commit to 10 hours of community service.
Last year, the Sun-Sentinel examined the effect of Broward’s law based on six months of data. Reporters found the civil citation option “unused.” In the first six months, out of 80 people who would have been eligible to receive a citation, every single one was arrested and processed as a criminal. Authorities said that had mostly to do with bureaucratic delays, such as not physically having the blank citations on hand.
SB 1662 would allow decriminalization on a statewide level, focusing primarily on “personal use quantities” of less than one ounce (or no more than five grams of concentrated cannabis). It wouldn’t include marijuana that is growing and would not include the estimated weight of any non-cannabis ingredients combined with the cannabis, such as what might be added to a cannabis food or drink product.
Persons over 18 would face the $100 fine for possession, while those under 18 would also be facing a civil violation, for which they could receive up to 15 hours of community service. The same would go for possession of a “cannabis accessory,” such as any paraphernalia used to inhale, ingest or prepare marijuana for personal use.
Meanwhile, the state’s new medical marijuana laws are taking shape, with HB 1397 and SB 406 authorizing doctors to issue certifications to certain patients who meet specific criteria and to allow caregivers meeting certain requirements to register with the Department of Health. Medical marijuana became state law on January 3rd, following the passage of Amendment 2 which was passed in November.
According to NORML, 20 states plus the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana possession for personal use, in most cases treating it either as a civil citation or the way they might a minor traffic infraction. In most cases, decriminalization means the person won’t face arrest, prison time or a criminal record for a first-time offense.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys understand that even if low-level possession is decriminalized in the state, it will not mean police will stop making marijuana-related arrests. There will still be higher-level crimes.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Marijuana decriminalization discussed in Florida, April 18, 2017, News Service of Florida
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